Desk Stretches to Mitigate the Effects of Occupational Sitting

Desk Stretches to Mitigate the Effects of Occupational Sitting

Recently, we published a summary of an article relating to a study out of The University of Western Ontario, written by Prof. Harry Prapavessis, which revealed some interesting information about the risks of “occupat­­ional sitting.” Read more about Prapavessis’s study here.

Occupational Sitting: The New Smoking

Office workers sit for the majority of the day, and they run the biggest risk of suffering occupational sitting-related injuries. Injuries from sitting include, but are not limited to:

  • Obesity (and obesity-related illnesses, such as diabetes or cardiovascular illnesses)
  • Neck or shoulder pain
  • Various musculoskeletal disorders
  • Generalized back pain in any area, of varying types and degrees

The effects of occupational sitting are thought to be so severe, that occupational sitting has been referred to as the new smoking. This comparison is meant to drive home a message, which is that sitting is just as bad for your health as smoking, and may even be as deadly.

Combat the Risk with Stretches

When it comes to sitting at a desk, proper posture is paramount to good health. Ergonomics assessments and training are a necessary requirement for workers who sit at desks for the majority of the workday.

Stretching is a key component in mitigating the risks of occupational sitting. Incorporate stretches into your workday and make them part of your daily routine. Not only will they help reduce the harmful effects of occupational sitting, but it will get the blood flowing and give your brain a short break, which may increase productivity, creativity, and relieve stress!

Desk Stretching 101

Below are five stretches that will help reduce the effects of occupational sitting. It is important to know that a stretch should never hurt, but it may be slightly uncomfortable. Most stretches are effective if they are held for at least 30 seconds; however, do not ever hold a stretch for longer than is comfortable for you. When stretching, you should feel a strain, but a good strain. Pain is an indication to stop. Listen to your body – you know better than anyone what is right for you.

Stretch #1: Shoulder/Pectoralis Stretch

Why: This stretch works to reverse the effects of being hunched over a keyboard all day.


  1. Sit straight on the edge of the chair with feet planted
  2. Clasp hands behind your back
  3. Push chest out, and raise the chin

Stretch #2: Torso Stretch

Why: Sitting all day may strain the back, and this torso stretch helps loosen the back muscles


  1. Sit straight on the edge of the chair, and put feet flat on the ground
  2. Face front
  3. Place one arm on top of a chair
  4. Twist body in the direction of the arm on top of the chair
  5. Repeat on the other side

Stretch #3: Neck Rotation

Why: Neck strain is a risk of sitting, especially for those who use a phone a lot or have improperly positioned monitors. Plus, this stretch just feels great.


  1. Lean head forward
  2. Slowly rotate head to one side
  3. Slowly move it back to starting position, then rotate to the other side
  4. Repeat three to five times per side
  5. Bonus: for a deeper stretch, pull head gently to each side, aiming your chin at each shoulder

Stretch #4: Shoulder Shrug

Why: Shoulders take a lot of the strain from frequent keyboarding and mouse activities. This stretch will loosen them up.


  1. Shrug shoulders towards the ears, then allow them to relax and drop fully
  2. Repeat ten times or more

Stretch #5: Upper Body Stretch

Why: The entire body can hold tension that results from poor posture. This stretch loosens up the upper body and arms.


  1. Sit straight on the edge of the chair with feet planted
  2. Clasp hands above head with palms facing out
  3. Push arms up
  4. Stretch upward
  5. Bonus: tilt torso side-to-side to maximize the stretch

When it comes to desk stretches, some say that there just isn’t enough time in a day to complete all of the many asks required, plus work in some stretches. Spending a few minutes per day stretching is a small price to pay for the reduced risk of ergonomic injury. Don’t think of stretching as an interruption to your workday; think of it a necessary component of your work process, productivity, and personal health!

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator

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