Break up your work day with these three stretches to soothe your stiff spine and neck

Soothe your spine, loosen stiff neck muscles and protect yourself against the damage of sitting with this short routine

A man stretching at his desk
(Image credit: Getty / Westend61)

It's easy to name some of the benefits of stretching, from improving your mobility to reducing your risk of injury. What can be harder is setting aside some time to actually do it.

That's why I asked a doctor of physical therapy for a few stretches people could do at your desk during the work day, and she rose to the challenge with an accessible three-move routine that only takes a few minutes to do.

"I love encouraging patients to sprinkle in stretches throughout the day," says Christynne Helfrich

"To do this, the stretches need to be easy to perform and not take a lot of time—the best stretching routine is the one that you are actually going to do!"

Take a look below to see how to do the three stretches, then give them a go for yourself. 

How to do Dr Christynne Helfrich's three-move stretching routine

1. Standing lumbar extension

  • Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart and place your hands on the base of your spine.
  • Slowly lean back, allowing your hips to push forwards until you feel a gentle stretch in both areas. 
  • Return to the starting position. Continue this for 60 seconds. 

Benefits

"On average, Americans are spending six to eight hours a day sitting, which means we are stuck in a forward flexed position for the majority of the day," Helfrich explains. 

"Spending a few minutes each day to stand up and lengthen the front of your hip flexors as well as initiate some extension in the spine can help decrease pain and stiffness, and improve overall mobility."

2. Upper trap stretch

The upper trap stretch

(Image credit: Dr Christynne Helfrich)
  • Sit upright in a chair or on the ground, if you prefer. 
  • Keeping your eyes facing forwards, tip your right ear to your right shoulder. 
  • Reach your right hand over your head so it's lying over your left ear, then apply some gentle pressure to elongate the neck and deepen the stretch. 
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. 

Benefits

"The upper trapezius [the muscles running from the side of your neck along the top of your shoulders] is notorious for being a source of pain and is a muscle that can carry a lot of our stress and tension," says Helfrich. 

"When your upper trap becomes tight or develops trigger points, it can cause pain in your neck, head and even jaw if it becomes bad enough. 

"Performing trap stretches is easy and can be done right at your desk to help keep that muscle loose and flexible."

3. Lumbar side bend (with optional overhead reach)

  • Stand or sit in a comfortable position. Keeping your eyes and torso facing forward, lean over to your right so your right hand slides down towards your right knee.
  • Return to the center and repeat on the other side. Continue this for 60 seconds. 

Benefits

"This is a great stretch to perform at your desk that encourages movement into the low back and, more specifically, encourages lateral [sideways] movement," Helfrich says. 

"These lateral movements are not something we get much of during our normal daily activities. To make this stretch a little more advanced, you can also reach your arm overhead in the direction that you are bending, giving you a deeper stretch along the side of the body."

If you have a bit more time, you might want to give a slightly longer sequence a go, like these yoga stretches for beginners

The only equipment you might want for routines like this is a yoga mat, which offers some extra grip and cushioning. To find one that's right for you, take a look at our tried and tested guide to the best yoga mats

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.


Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.