Try These Exercises If You Sit at a Desk All Day

Sit at a desk day?

Try these simple exercises and activities to decrease muscle aches and/or stiffness and improve overall health, especially if you sit at a desk all day!

Do you work a desk job?

Is your back sore from sitting all day?

Do you feel stiff after a long day of work?

Below I am going to list some activities you can do from your desk to help with pain, aches, and stiffness. These tips and tricks can also help decrease your risk of long term health conditions that may be associated with prolonged sitting. 


The Impact of Sitting for Prolonged Periods of Time


Sitting for prolonged periods of time has been linked to various health conditions. A few examples include: increased risk of cardiovascular disease, postural deficits that can result in pulmonary issues, increased risk and intensity of low back pain, impeded blood flow, muscle stiffness and decreased range of motion, and deconditioning. [1][2][3]

In America, more and more people are working from an office or from home – where they are confined to a desk and sitting for prolonged periods of time. 

To begin, it is a great idea to have an adjustable desk that allows you to stand and sit throughout the day – if this is feasible. Standing up often, ~1x each hour or even for prolonged periods, promotes blood flow and circulation throughout your body. If you do not have a standing desk, you can simply stand up from your chair for 1-2 minutes during each hour at work. 

If you are interested in a standing adjustable desk, affordable ones can be found on amazon


3 Exercises for Neck Pain from Sitting at a Desk All Day


For improved posture and strength, and to address stiffness in the neck, 3 great activities to implement throughout the day are scapular retractions, cervical retractions, and upper trap stretching. 


1. Scapular retractions


Scapular retraction headaches

To do this exercise, sit nice and tall, relax your shoulders, and think about squeezing your shoulder blades down and together. This will help to promote strengthening of the back and improved forward head posture that is common when working from a desk. 


2. Cervical retractions


Cervical Retraction for sitting at a desk all day

To do this exercise: Sit nice and tall with shoulders relaxed – you will bring your chin back (giving yourself a double chin). This helps to improve posture, as well. Cervical retractions strengthen the front of the neck and stretch the back of the neck – which is needed after prolonged periods of sitting at a desk! 


3. Upper trap stretch


Upper Trapezius Stretch Headaches

To do this exercise: Bend your head to one side and hold for about 20 seconds; think about bringing your ear down towards your shoulder – you should feel a stretch from the side of your neck down towards your shoulder. 


2 Exercises for Upper Back Pain from Sitting at a Desk All Day


If your mid back gets stiff throughout the day, 2 activities to help are thoracic rotations and thoracic extensions. These can be completed from your chair during work! 


  1. Thoracic rotation: cross arms, rotate your chest to one side, hold for 5 seconds. Repeat this on the other side! This will promote spinal mobility which will help address stiffness while sitting at a desk throughout the day. 
  2. Thoracic extension: cross your arms over your chest, and lean back for 5-10 seconds. This will also address spinal range of motion and improve forward head posturing that is common with prolonged sitting. 


2 Exercises for Lower Back Pain from Sitting at a Desk All Day


For lower back stiffness, aches and pains – standing during the day is a great starting point! Set a timer for every hour that you’re sitting and stand up, maybe even walk around for a minute. You can even do some marches in place to promote blood flow and increase the heart rate. Some other activities you can do to ease lower back pain while sitting for prolonged periods are standing trunk rotations and repeated extension in standing. 

  1. Standing trunk rotations: this is very similar to the thoracic rotations mentioned above. You will stand with arms out in front of you or arms at your sides. From here, you will rotate your trunk towards left and right, holding for 5 seconds in each direction. 
  2. Repeated extension in standing (REIS): stand with hands on hips and lean backwards. Don’t lean into a range of motion that is painful. Hold position for 5-10 seconds and repeat.



All of the activities listed above are great to implement into your day to day routine at work. If you sit for long periods of time, think about performing one of these each hour to promote blood flow and circulation, prevent stiffness or undesirable postures, and improve overall health! You won’t regret it! 

And if you experience pain from sitting at a desk all day and want some help overcoming that pain, book an appointment with us at ProActive.


Susannah Azofeifa, PT, DPT was born and raised in Owensboro, Kentucky but now calls North Augusta, SC home. She attended the University of Louisville and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology/Exercise Science in 2017. She then attended Breanu University where she received her doctorate of physical therapy in 2021. Susannah enjoys treating a wide range of orthopedic conditions and also specializes in treating pelvic floor dysfunction, and pre and post partum individuals. She enjoys spending time doing activities such as CrossFit, being outdoors, traveling, being with family, and spending time with her husband, Fabian. She heads up our Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy (PFPT) program here at ProActive.



[1] Article Source: Is Objectively Measured Sitting Time Associated with Low Back Pain? A Cross-Sectional Investigation in the NOMAD study Gupta N, Christiansen CS, Hallman DM, Korshøj M, Carneiro IG, et al. (2015) Is Objectively Measured Sitting Time Associated with Low Back Pain? A Cross-Sectional Investigation in the NOMAD study. PLOS ONE 10(3): e0121159. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0121159 https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0121159

[2] Carter, Sophie1; Hartman, Yvonne2; Holder, Sophie1; Thijssen, Dick H.1,2; Hopkins, Nicola D.1. Sedentary Behavior and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Mediating Mechanisms. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews 45(2):p 80-86, April 2017. | DOI: 10.1249/JES.0000000000000106 https://journals.lww.com/acsm-essr/fulltext/2017/04000/Sedentary_Behavior_and_Cardiovascular_Disease.5.aspx 

[3] Lurati AR. Health Issues and Injury Risks Associated With Prolonged Sitting and Sedentary Lifestyles. Workplace Health & Safety. 2018;66(6):285-290. doi:10.1177/2165079917737558 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2165079917737558 

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Rafi Salazar OT

Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L (Rafi) is the CEO & President of Proactive Rehabilitation & Wellness, as well as the Principal Owner of Rehab U Practice Solutions and the host of The Better Outcomes Show. He has experience in a variety of rehab settings, working with patients recovering from a variety of injuries and surgeries. He worked as the lead clinician in an outpatient specialty clinic at his local VA Medical center, where he worked on projects to improve patient & employee engagement and experience throughout the organization. He has experience as a faculty member at Augusta University’s Occupational Therapy Program, as a Licensed Board Member on the GA State OT Board, has served on several committees for the national OT Board (NBCOT), and as a consultant working for the State of Georgia’s DBHDD. He is also on the Board of Directors for NBCOT. Rafi also authored the book Better Outcomes: A Guide to Humanizing Healthcare