MMost of us spend most of our day stuck in front of our computer. And those long, steady hours at our desks can wreak havoc on our necks, backs or shoulders. We usually attribute pain and stiffness to poor posture. But Abby Halpin, DPT, a physical therapist and owner of Forte Performance & Physical Therapy, says that’s often the case. bad About posture and more how long You are in the same position in that pose.

“Standing in one place or working all day means the same muscle groups are active all day and experience fatigue,” she says. Spending weeks, months or years sitting at the same desk in the same way can cause the tissues involved in maintaining that position to become hypersensitive. “The nerve receptors alert your brain to potential danger more quickly and intensely, which creates an increased pain experience or guard response, tightening the muscles around the area to protect you,” she says.

Although not necessarily the pain, says Dr. Halpin, stiffness can also indicate a problem. “Stiffness is the need for muscles and joints to work at the same length and tension all the time, which reduces the range of motion in which they are effective,” he explains.

Ultimately, Dr. Halpin says defining “good” or “bad” posture is very difficult—and not as important as you might think. More importantly, do what you can to change your body position throughout the day.

One of the best ways to mix things up is to take a short break to do some mobility exercises. Dr. Halpin notes that not only does this directly relieve some of the tension in the muscles and joints, but changing the posture you’ve held throughout the day gives your body a chance to relax. “Both stretching and mobility work allow loads to be transferred to different areas of the body,” she says.

Six mobility moves you can do right at your desk

Dr. Halpin walks us through some simple desk exercises to relieve your back, neck, and shoulder pain.


“This movement gives the joints, muscles, nerves and more around your spine a chance to experience every end of your range of motion spectrum,” says Dr. Halpin. “This increases the range of motion around the spine and allows for a better understanding of where the middle of that range is, which is typically where the spine experiences the least load.”

  • While sitting with your feet flat on the floor, place your hands on your desk.
  • Exhale as you press your hands lightly on the countertop and round your back.
  • Inhale and straighten, letting your chest lift up and forward as you reach the crown of your head toward the ceiling.
  • Repeat five to 10 times.

Reach overhead

Dr. Halpin says overhead raises can increase shoulder mobility and prevent stiffness.

  • Begin in a seated position with your elbows bent at your sides and your hands by your shoulders.
  • Exhale as you raise your arms straight up.
  • You lower your arms and inhale.
  • Repeat five to 10 times. Then, reverse the breathing pattern, inhaling as you reach up and exhaling as you bring your arms down.

Dr. Halpin says that by changing the breathing pattern as you reach, you increase the mobility in the ribs around your trunk.

Flexible breathing

Dr. Halpin says this exercise is a good primer for engaging your abdominals, and it creates space between your back ribs (which tend to contract when sitting) to better accommodate deep breathing.

  • Begin in a seated position with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Round your back and place your forearms on your thighs.
  • Exhale fully as you press your arms into your thighs.
  • Hold that pressure in your thighs as you inhale, filling the back half of your rib cage.
  • Repeat this for four breaths.

Hugs and Reaches

Dr. Halpin says this helps eliminate the extreme bias toward forward motion that occurs when you sit at a desk with side-to-side movements.

  • Hug yourself by crossing both arms across your body and wrapping your arms around you as far as possible.
  • Then, reach straight out to the side with your fingers extended away from you.
  • Repeat five to 10 times.

Knee scissor slide

“This movement slightly twists your spine and offers a change in the parts of your pelvis where you normally sit,” says Dr. Halpin.

  • While sitting with your feet flat on the floor, place a water bottle or ball between your knees.
  • Without bending your shoulders, move one knee and hip back and forth, then reverse, rolling the bottle back and forth with your knees.

Alternate punches

This exercise mobilizes the spine and shoulders by rotating the trunk.

  • While sitting, punch one hand forward and then the other, allowing your spine to twist.
  • Do five to 10 punches on each side.

Want to get out of your chair? Try this 12-minute mobility workout from trainer Traci Copeland:

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