The Best Desk Stretches for Warding Off WFH Aches and Pains
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold (yup, still here, folks!), for many people, returning to the office anytime soon still seems like an unlikely prospect. And while the perma-WFH setup certainly comes with perks — no need for a bra, more QT with pets, unlimited snack access — it can also take a toll on your body.
"As working from home continues and our bodies continue to move less, we begin to feel more aches, pains, and even tightness," explains celebrity personal trainer Jason Wimberly. "The body is designed for movement. It's an essential way to move lactic acid, increase circulation, decrease inflammation, and lubricate joints. The less we move, the more stiffness sets in."
And these days, lack of commute aside, many people are moving way less at home than they would at the office. Think about it: when your office is also the kitchen, there's far less of a need to walk to grab lunch. And with Fido as your only work buddy, occasional strolls over to a co-worker's desk for a gossip sesh are officially obsolete.
Most people also tend to sit in the same position and location on repeat, further contributing to aches and pains as their bodies start to get "locked in" to one position, explains Vinh Pham, P.T., physical therapist and director of recovery at Asystem. Varying how you sit is important, as is simply moving more. (Related: How to Set Up the Most Ergonomic Home Office Ever)
But how? That's where the pros come in. Ahead, experts share the best desk stretches and recovery tips to help bring some relief to your achy, breaky
Best Desk Stretches for WFH Aches and Pains
World's Greatest Stretch
"If you could only do one stretch ever, this would be it. It opens up your back, hips, ankles, legs, and shoulders," says Wimberly, who adds that you'll feel it in all these spots. Try doing this full-body desk stretch anytime you get up from your seat; per the name, it can be an incredibly beneficial full-body stretch for anyone, WFH aches and pains asides.
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and come into a deep runner's lunge, bringing left leg forward and bent at 90-degrees, the right leg straight with the knee off the floor.
B. Place the right hand flat on the floor in line with the left heel.
C. Twist torso open to the left and reach left arm up to the sky. Hold for about 5 seconds.
D. Bring left hand down to the inside of left shin, dropping elbow toward the floor; stay there for 5 seconds. Twist open and reach to the sky again to begin the next rep.
Do 15 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
"This stretch is good because it introduces movement into your upper and middle back — the areas that usually begin to feel stiff from prolonged sitting and desk work," and where people tend to hold stress, explains Pham. (And let's face it, it's hard to not be stressed these days.) Try doing this middle- and upper-back desk stretch every three hours (pro tip: set an alarm on your phone as a reminder) to boost blood flow, loosening up tense muscles and easing aches and pains. (Related: The Desk Yoga Flow You Can Do at Work)
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and reach arms straight out in front of body.
B. Push arms and shoulders forward to feel a stretch between shoulder blades, pulling belly button in towards the spine and rounding spine backward. Tuck chin into chest to stretch behind neck. Hold for 2 seconds.
C. Slowly untuck chin and bring both arms out to the side and back, palms facing forward or up, if your shoulders allow. Feel the stretch in the front of arms, shoulders, and chest. Look up to stretch the front of the neck. Hold for 2 seconds. That's 1 rep.
Do 10 reps.
"Believe it or not, you need strong hips and glutes to sit comfortably for long periods of time," says Pham. "With this exercise, you're building strength in the hips and will feel a stretch into the hamstrings." (This desk stretch is kind of like a variation on the good morning exercise.)
A. Stand in a neutral position with feet hip-width apart and arms by sides.
B. Slightly bend knees and hinge forward at hips while simultaneously raising arms overhead until they're in line with ears, arms and torso parallel to the floor. You should feel tension in the quads and a stretch in the hamstrings and glutes.
C. Hold for about 5 seconds, then squeeze glutes to stand and lower arms to sides.
Do 3 sets of 10 reps daily.
Seated Thoracic Extension
Make the most of all the time you're stuck sitting by using the back of your chair to help realign posture and prevent neck and shoulder pain, says Wimberly. Feeling tight in these areas right now? This passive desk stretch can help ease already-present aches and pains, too. (Related: Why You Should Care About Thoracic Spine Mobility)
A. Staying seated, scoot butt all the way to back of chair and place hands behind head. Feet should be flat on the ground, legs bent at 90-degrees. Inhale deeply.
B. Exhale and lean back over the chair, focusing on lifting chest to the sky rather than collapsing backward.
C. Hold for about 5 seconds (about 5 deep breaths). Slowly return to start.
Do 10 reps.
Sure, you could consider this a desk stretch, but really it's more of a restorative pose. (You might know it as "legs up the wall" from yoga class.) "It's rare that our legs are ever above the heart for extended periods of time," says Wimberly. "Elevating them in this way increases circulation throughout the body, and more blood flow is essential for helping our bodies heal and achy muscles recover." He adds that it's also a nice stretch and release if you have lower back pain. Try starting and ending your workday with this desk stretch.
A. Lie down on floor and scoot butt to be directly against the wall.
B. Extend and straighten legs up the wall.
C. Hold for 2-5 minutes. (Yes, it's that easy.)
Do 2 sets; one before work, one after.
If you catch yourself constantly slumping, try this desk stretch. It focuses on strengthening the postural muscles in your middle back that help you sit up straight, says Pham. Heads up: You might feel a little sore after this desk stretch because you're activating muscles that aren't used to moving in this way, he explains. It just means you're finally giving them the attention they need. (See also: I Improved My Posture In Just 30 Days—Here's How You Can Too)
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and back straight. (If you'd rather stay seated, just scoot butt to the back of the chair and keep feet flat on the ground.)
B. Extend and lift arms straight overhead to make a 'Y' shape, keeping neck neutral by slightly tucking chin into chest. Think about keeping shoulder blades back and down, so they don't shrug up towards the ears. Hold for 2-3 seconds.
C. Squeeze shoulder blades together and draw elbows toward hips, stopping when they're in line with your rib cage and form a "W" shape. Keep core engaged (don't let ribs poke forward or back arch) throughout the movement. Hold for 2-3 seconds. That's 1 rep.
Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
A. Start kneeling with legs together. Place hands on the floor in front of knees with palms facing up and fingertips pointing toward thighs.
B. Lean back slightly, putting weight onto hands, using bodyweight to increase the stretch (the more pressure put on the hands, the deeper the stretch).
C. Gently rock back and forth for 30 seconds.
Repeat for each of the following positions:
- Palms up, fingertips pointing toward one another.
- Palms down, fingertips pointing away from each other.
- Palms down, fingertips pointing toward knees.
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
Long hours spent sitting can leave your legs and hips feeling tight and compressed, says Pham. Try this hip flexor stretch at the end of the day to help open everything up. (FYI: You should feel a stretch through the front of your back leg, into the hip, and possibly even in your core or chest.)
A. Stand with one leg in front of the other, about shoulder-width distance apart. Tighten glutes and tuck pelvis.
B. Keeping back leg straight, slowly bend front leg and lunge forward. You should feel a stretch across the front of the hip on the back leg. (If not, try separating feet another few inches.)
C. Extend arms overhead, next to ears. Hold for 5 seconds, then lower arms.
Do 10 reps. Switch side; repeat.
Best Recovery Tips for WFH Aches and Pains
Remember to Foam Roll
Consider foam rolling the ultimate add-on to these desk stretches. Foam rolling helps massage fascia (bands of connective tissue that stabilize muscles) and brings more blood flow to the muscles, priming them so that you can ultimately get deeper stretches, explains Wimberly. While you can do any of the above desk stretches throughout the day, incorporating 10 minutes of foam rolling in the a.m. before hunkering down at your desk will help you get the most of each stretch, he adds. (Related: The Foam Roller Workout That Hits Your Most Important Muscles.)
Take a Walk
You know what they say: sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. And this remains true (especially on those busy, Zoom-call-packed days) when it comes to easing WFH aches and pains. Something as simple as taking a quick walk around the block can help with circulation, lubricate your joints, and improve overall energy throughout your body, explains Wimberly. (Want to take it up a notch? Try this butt workout next time you're taking a stroll.)
Consider Topical CBD
Both Pham and Wimberly are fans of using topical CBD to help further relieve achy muscles. While CBD is known to be anti-inflammatory when taken orally, there's little research-backed evidence of its ability to provide relief when used topically. (Note: Many CBD muscle rubs also contain ingredients such as menthol and arnica, which have long been used to relieve sore muscles and tissue injuries.) Still, if after reading more about using topical CBD for inflammation, you're game to give it a go, Wimberly recommends rubbing it onto any targeted spots that might still feel a bit sore, even post-stretching. Pham's also a fan of using topical CBD on the sides of the neck where people tend to hold lots of muscle tension when sitting at a desk all day.
As for which topical CBD products to pick? Wimberly suggests Quanta CBD Muscle Rub (Buy It, $45, quantacbd.com) while Pham recommends Asystem's Radical Relief Gel Roll-On (Buy It, $59, asystem.com). (Pham is affiliated with Asystem but, FWIW, I've tried the product myself and can totally attest to it being an A+ option.) And for those who'd rather just pick something up during their next drugstore run, there's CBD Medic Back & Neck Pain Relief Ointment (Buy It, $30, walgreens.com).