Feel better with these everyday desk stretches

Most people don’t consider desk work to be hazardous. Unfortunately, poor posture combined with the repetitive nature of office employment can lead to musculoskeletal pain in the arms, back, and neck. The good news is that there are easy exercises employees can perform right at their workstations that can reduce daily discomforts. 

The following are ideal stretches for your desk during quick breaks. Remember that it’s optimal to hold these desk stretches for 15-30 seconds each; avoid forcing your body beyond your comfort level to prevent injury.

Arm stretches


  • While standing or sitting, reach your arms toward the ceiling.
  • Bending both arms above your head, grasp your left elbow with your right hand. 
  • Gently pull your left arm toward your left ear and slightly back; hold a position where you feel resistance.
  • Repeat on the opposite arm. 

Overhead reach

  • Reach your right arm toward the ceiling. 
  • Stretch the arm over your head, reaching above the left side of your body and hold. 
  • Repeat with your left arm. 

Clasp hands together above the head

  • Stretch your arms upward with fingers laced, palms facing the ceiling. 
  • Reach upward and slightly back, feeling resistance in your upper arms and shoulders.

Wrist stretch

  • Reach both arms in front of you, palms down.
  • Place your right hand on the back of your left hand; gently push your left hand down until you feel resistance. Hold, then repeat on the opposite hand.
  • Repeat this desk stretch on each hand, this time flexing the hands backward with palms facing out. 

Shoulder stretch

  • Clasp your hands behind your back.
  • Gently lift arms toward the ceiling and hold.

Torso stretches

Upper body chair twist

  • While seated upright with your feet flat on the floor in front of you, slowly twist your upper body as if you’re trying to look behind you. Hold position.
  • Try grasping your armrest or seat to help with the gentle pull.

Leg and knee stretches

Pull your knee toward your chest

  • While seated and leaning back slightly, pull one knee toward your chest.
  • Hold, then repeat on the opposite leg. 


  • Sit near the edge of your chair, straightening your legs in front of you. 
  • Bend at the waist with your back straight, reaching toward your toes. 

Calf Raises

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Holding the desk for balance, slowly lift your heels, putting weight on the balls of your feet and flexing the calf muscles. 
  • Return heels to the floor and repeat 20 times. 

Shoulder shrug stretch

  • With arms at your sides, lift shoulders toward your ears as high as they’ll go, holding for 2 seconds.
  • Roll your shoulders back and then down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
  • Do a second set of rolls, moving shoulders forward and down out of the shrug.

Neck roll 

  • Relax your shoulders downward and bend your chin toward your chest.
  • Slowly roll your head to the right, bringing your ear above your shoulder and hold.
  • Roll your head back to the starting position and repeat on the left side. 

Back stretches

Forward stretch

  • While seated, place feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend forward at the waist, reaching hands between the feet toward the floor.
  • If you can reach the floor easily, extend further toward the back of the chair until you feel a stretch, holding for 15-30 seconds. 

How often should you stretch when sitting at a desk?

The National Institutes of Health recommend that office employees stretch 1-2 minutes for every 20-30 minutes of work time. Desk stretching is an ideal way to promote blood circulation and break the unhealthy, repetitive, sedentary nature of sitting and typing. 

Benefits of stretching every day

Stretching can reduce muscle stiffness and improve the flexibility of the body parts involved during your work. Ultimately, this can take the stress away from muscles and joints, resulting in less discomfort, pain and even injury

Perform daily stretching to prevent trips to urgent care

Taking time out of your busy work schedule for desk stretches can help avoid visits to a medical professional for pain and injury. If you do need medical care for desk injuries, we’re here to help. Visit our website to find an urgent care center near you.

Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant