A physiotherapist says this is the one exercise you should be doing to reduce neck stiffness

A simple stretch you can do from your desk to increase neck mobility

Woman doing neck stretch at desk
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Upper-body stiffness is very common, particularly if you work a desk job and spend a lot of time hunched over your laptop.

The neck is particularly susceptible to feeling the strain. If you've ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed with a crick in your neck, you'll know just how uncomfortable stiffness in this region can be.

"The first thing that I do to provide immediate relief to someone with neck pain is offer some gentle stretches to do at their desk or during the day to mobilize their neck," says physiotherapist at Complete Pilates, Alysha Eibl.

There's one stretch that Eibl often advises her patients to do if they’re suffering from neck stiffness and it doesn't require any equipment. You can do it from a seated position, so you can easily incorporate it into your routine while working from home.

"This movement helps stretch the side of the neck, down the top of the shoulder, to the tip of the shoulder—so that's your upper trapezius," Eibl says.

How to do the desk-job neck stretch

  • Sitting on a chair, plant your feet firmly on the floor.
  • To stretch the left side of your neck, take your left hand and sit on it with your palm facing down.
  • Drop your right ear to your right shoulder and feel the stretch down the left side of your neck.
  • If you want more of a stretch, take your right hand and gently place it on your left ear and gently pull your right ear further towards your right shoulder.
  • Breathe and hold that stretch for 30-45 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

"This stretch shouldn't be painful. You should be able to breathe through it and feel quite relaxed," Eibl says.

How to get a deeper stretch

If you want to increase the stretch, and get into the back of the neck as well as the shoulders, Eibl recommends adding the following steps:

  • From the position you were holding with your right ear towards your right shoulder, turn your nose towards your right armpit as if you're trying to sniff your armpit.
  • If you can, gently pull the back of your head further down towards your armpit.
  • Hold that for 30-45 seconds.
  • Come out of the stretch slowly rather than just letting your head return quickly to its starting position. Repeat on the other side

Benefits of neck mobility

Stiffness in the neck is often caused by the body being in one position—such as working at a laptop while sitting at a desk—for too long.

Incorporating regular mobility exercises into your routine will help to mobilize joints and relax muscles over time, decreasing the intensity and frequency of any pain and stiffness and potentially providing immediate relief.

"You can definitely improve the mobility of your neck," Eibl says, adding: "You don't necessarily need to stretch every day if you don't have symptoms but you might do them a couple of times a week."

If you are dealing with severe or chronic stiffness or pain in your neck, it's a good idea to consult a health professional.

"If you're having stiffness where you're unable to move your head less than 50% of what you'd normally be able to move it, pain that radiates into your arms, pins, needles, numbness sensations in your arms or face or if you're experiencing headaches, migraines, nausea, then you need to speak to your doctor," Eibl advises.

If you're feeling stiff in other areas after a day at your desk, try doing these hip stretches to undo the damage of sitting, or have a go at this 15-minute yoga for mobility flow.

Alice Porter
Freelancer Writer

Alice Porter is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle topics including health, fitness and wellness. She is particularly interested in women's health, strength training and fitness trends and writes for publications including Stylist Magazine, Refinery29, The Independent and Glamour Magazine. Like many other people, Alice's personal interest in combining HIIT training with strength work quickly turned into a CrossFit obsession and she trains at a box in south London. When she's not throwing weights around or attempting handstand push-ups, you can probably find her on long walks in nature, buried in a book or hopping on a flight to just about anywhere it will take her.