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Work Hack: Feel Better In 5 Minutes With These 5 Stretches

You might think that sitting at a desk all day can’t possibly be as bad for your health as a physically demanding job. Think again.

Though your desk job isn’t as harrowing as being a cast member of the “Deadliest Catch,” prolonged sitting isn’t good for you. But you can add some healthy habits into your day to offset sitting for hours at work, and they don’t take long.

Here’s the real story: Taking breaks every 30 minutes to do a few easy stretches can help reduce or avoid pain associated with sitting all day, as long as you make those stretches work for you.

What’s So Bad About Sitting All Day?

Even if you’re dedicated to your gym workout, you need to move your muscles and get the blood pumping throughout the day. Remember, that hour working out at the gym is just 4 percent of your day. If you’re sitting for eight hours a day, it’s going to take more than a gym workout to mitigate the effects of prolonged sitting.

That’s because all that sitting – and the way you sit – can affect your bones, joints, and muscles. And worse. It can even affect your breathing and your risk factor for death!

Look, the Mayo Clinic analyzed 13 studies of sitting time and found that people who sit more than eight hours a day without physical activity had a risk of dying that rivaled the risk associated with obesity and smoking!

Sitting all day can also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes pain in the arm, elbow and even the shoulder, and “tennis elbow,” pain where the forearm and elbow connect — without the tennis!

And then there are the knots in your traps, the area that everybody loves to have rubbed. The bottom line is: Don’t stand for sitting all day!

Top 5 Areas That Get Tight When You Sit All Day (and Why)

  1. Upper traps: You know how you start hunching forward as the day goes on? Well, your head juts with it, and your head weighs about 10 pounds! Why does this matter? You can also get upper cross syndrome, which is caused by poor posture (ahem, staring at your phone.) The muscles in your neck and shoulders become strained, while the muscles in your chest become shortened and therefore, tight. So, some muscles are overused and others are underused. This can lead to your head staying in a forward position, a hunching curvature of the spine, rounded shoulders, and scapula winging, when your shoulder blades stick out.
  2. Neck: When you’re hunched over your computer all day, your chin jut shortens the muscles on the back of your neck where your skull meets your cervical spine. Why does this matter? This can lead to tightness and headaches, and it can even affect your breathing. One study showed that bowing your head forward (to look at your phone, for instance) reduces you capacity for breathing properly.
  3. Lower Back: Rounding your shoulders to slouch causes all the muscles on the back to stretch, leading to poor breathing habits. That’s because we squish our diaphragm and lose core and spine stability, putting more pressure on our discs. When you do this day in and day out, your diaphragm goes “on tilt.” That’s not all. A PLOS One study found that adding load to the lower limbs keeps people from maintaining proper breathing function from the diaphragm.
  4. Hips: When we sit on our glutes, we turn them off, making for tight hips. Then when we stand without using our glutes, putting pressure on our back and thighs, causing “extension compression compensation” in the low back aka overusing our back for our sleep butt. In other words, our hips hurt because we overcompensate for turned off glutes.
  5. Hamstrings: When you sit all day, your hamstrings turn off. Similar to the glutes, they get put on a stretch and then sat on all day inhibiting them from their full potential. Why does this matter? They get tight, leading to leg stiffness and lower back pain. It can start even in kids, who sit much of the day in class. Leaning forward can make it worse.

Stretches to Do at Your Desk

I can’t emphasize this enough: If you find yourself sitting at your desk for prolonged amounts of time, take a break – preferably every 30 minutes or so – to do these stretches:

If you’ve got knots in your upper traps and neck, sit up straight in your chair with one arm bracing yourself on the seat. Lift the other arm and place it atop your head. Then gently pull your head toward your arm to stretch your neck and traps. Hold for a few seconds, sending your breath down into your belly, and then repeat on the other side.

Feel that tightness in your upper back? Hunching over your computer makes your traps and rhomboid muscles work harder, often for hours at a time. Take time out to stretch your upper back muscles. First, sit in your chair with both feet on the ground. Then lift both arms in front of you, bending them upward at the elbow. Place one elbow in the crook of the other arm and then thread your arms to clasp your hands. Repeat with the opposite arm.

You know how your midback gets tight when you sit all day? Stretch it out by crossing one leg over the other and then gently twisting your torso toward the upper leg. Switch legs and twist in the opposite direction.

Your hip rotators can tighten up when you sit all day at your desk. Stretch them by placing the outside of your right ankle on top of your left knee. Gently coax the knee down toward the floor until you feel the muscles in your hip and butt start to stretch. Repeat on the other side.

That’s not all. Now it’s time to get out of your chair and stretch out the back of your legs and your lower back. Place your hands on the back of your chair and bend forward in a 90 degree angle until you feel your hamstrings and lower back chair. Repeat several times until you feel refreshed. This will get your blood flowing and give you renewed energy to keep on working.

At Urban Wellness Clinic, we understand that so many of our clients, like you, spend hours at a time, hunched over their computers. That’s why we offer corporate wellness programs, including ergonomic assessments. Our in-depth Ergonomic Assessment workshop provides tips for good posture, proper desk set-up, and stretches for our clients who sit for hours a day.

Contact us today about our corporate wellness programs, including Ergonomic Lunch and Learn or One-on-One Ergonomic Assessments. Call us at 212-355-0445, or email us at We’re here for you!

Best in health,

Dr. Emily Kiberd