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Simple Tips for Desk Jockeys to Ease Neck and Shoulder Pain

Spending hours at a desk can cause painful stiffness in your neck and shoulders. These simple exercises (with videos!) will help relieve neck and shoulder tension so you stay loose and limber.

By
Brock Armstrong
3-minute read
The Quick And Dirty
  • Sitting still all day can create pain and tension in your upper body.
  • Taking a break once an hour to move your body can benefit your body and your mind. 
  • Stretching can feel nice, but bringing movement to a sedentary part of your body can be more effective.

The team at Quick and Dirty Tips got an email the other day asking this:

When I'm in front of a computer all day, I find that my neck and shoulder muscles tense up a lot, and that causes neck pain. I've since realized I have a bad habit of raising my shoulders when I'm stressed. (I'll literally stop and think, 'Why are my shoulders practically touching my ears?') Are there some good exercises I can do to release tension in my neck and shoulders? Maybe some things I can do at my desk when I find tension building, but also some daily exercises to help relieve the tension and tone my muscles?

Kerri

I was very excited when I saw this question because I have some great solutions to help release a lot of the tension you create when you sit still for a living. By doing some specific types of movements periodically throughout the day, you should be able to stave off the tension and even help bring those shoulders back down where they belong. 

I suggest setting an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to get up once per hour. And while you are up, why not loosen up some tight body parts?

Using advanced ergonomic and health risk calculations, Jack Callaghan, a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology, has found that the ideal sitting to standing ratio lies somewhere between 1:1 and 1:3. If you do the math, that is a vast departure from conventional wisdom. In fact, Professor Callaghan says his research shows that people should be standing for at least 30 minutes per hour to get maximum health benefits. Which, as much as I applaud that notion, I think we can all agree for most of our jobs is not practical or likely to happen. 

So, what can we do? I suggest setting an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to get up once per hour. And while you are up, why not loosen up some tight body parts? 

Check out the videos below for some ideas that you can pepper into your day to help you stay limber and loose. 

Shoulders and upper back

The exercises in this video are:

  1. Shoulder Rolls
  2. Elbow Flap
  3. Y, T, W
  4. Towel Windmills

Upper body

The exercises in the video are:

  1. Side-to-Side Reach
  2. Upper Body Rotations
  3. Standing Cat-Cow
  4. Shoulder Rotations

Hands, wrists, and forearms

The exercises in this video are:

  1. Hand Crunches
  2. Wrist Rotations
  3. Single Finger Rotations
  4. Finger Ripples
  5. Prayer Stretch
  6. Backhand Stretch
  7. Forearm Stretch
  8. Shake it out!

You may have noticed that very few of the movements I did in any of these videos were static stretches.  There's a reason for that. When your goal is to counteract issues brought on by being sedentary, it is much more effective and useful to increase the blood flow, range of motion, and overall mobility of a particular area of the body rather than holding it still in yet another static position. So, even if you are technically stretching a muscle (or muscle group) try to keep it moving by doing a dynamic (rather than static) stretch. 

Citations +
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.