I sit at a desk all day and feel tight after a few hours, what can I do?

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT

Sitting for extended periods, or any other activity that requires repetitive movements, leads to muscle imbalances (muscles that become too short/tight or too long). When we sit for extended periods the muscles that typically become tight are the hip flexor muscles, which are responsible for bringing our thighs closer to our hips, our chest muscles, responsible for reaching forward and typing on the keyboard, and the muscles of the front of our neck, usually used to help us get a closer look at the computer screen.

A really simple solution to minimize tightness throughout the day is to take a stretch break! Set an alarm or recurring reminders on your computer for every 90 minutes to two hours to remind you to stand up and stretch out. Repeat the following three stretches – holding each one for at least 30 seconds – throughout the day to keep you feeling loose and limber:

  • Standing Hip Flexor (Front of Hip) Stretch

[media id="DEV__4c82394d432704_32186942" title="Standing Front of Hip Stretch"]  

  • Wall Chest Stretch

[media id="DEV__4c824077efb095_01397614" title="Wall Chest Stretch"]  

  • Standing Front of Neck Stretch

A great stretch you can do in your office is the called the standing hip stretch. This will keep your hips from becoming stuck in that flexed or seated position. Perform this stretch 1 to 2 times a day, and hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

Sitting at a desk all day causes muscular imbalances and tightness due to some muscles shortening while in a seated position while others remain stretched and loose. The first thing you should do is take regular breaks from sitting. Taking a few minutes to stand and stretch about every hour, at most, can reduce your tightness. During this break - stand up, walk around, get some water to drink, or perform a few stretches to loosen up your tight muscles. If you have your own office or sufficient privacy, you might even be able to use a foam roller to reduce the tightness.

Sitting causes your hip flexor muscles to shorten and these muscles should be the focus of your stretches. To stretch your hip flexors - Start by standing with one leg back and other forward. Point the toes of back foot slightly inward. Squeeze the butt muscles and shift your body forward, straightening your rear leg. To add a little more to this stretch, raise your arm on the same side as the rear leg and rotate toward the opposite side until stretch is felt in front of pelvis. Hold for 30 seconds.

 Working at a desk can cause your shoulders to round forward, so also include stretches for your chest. To stretch your chest, stand in a doorway and raise your arms to 90 degrees. Place your raised arm(s) on door frame and lean gently forward until slight stretch can be felt in your chest. If no doorway is convenient, clasp your hands behind your back and raise them behind your back until you feel a slight stretch in your chest. Hold either stretch for 30 seconds.

Finally, if you can, you might want to try standing at your desk. Adjust your desk and computer monitors so that you can stand with good posture.

Sitting at a desk all day certainly can tighten up your muscles. Here are a few stretches to loosen you up while at your desk.

To stretch your neck:

  • Bend your head forward and slightly to the right.
  • With your right hand, gently pull your head downward. You'll feel a nice, easy stretch along the back left side of your neck.
  • Hold for about 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Upper back stretch

Stretching the muscles in your upper back can promote good posture. To stretch these muscles:

  • Stand in a relaxed position with your arms extended in front of you, parallel to the floor (top image).
  • Pull your shoulder blades together behind you, bending your arms slightly at the elbows. You'll notice that your arms spread a little wider as you do this (bottom image).
  • Hold about 30 seconds
  • Repeat as desired.

Shoulder and Chest stretch        

  • Clasp your hands behind your back
  • Sit up tall and with elbows slightly bent
  • Slowly raise your hands out away from your body
  • Hold for about 30 seconds.

Seated Low Back Stretch

  • Sit up tall in your chair and crossed your legs right over left
  • Place you left hand on just under your knee to brace yourself
  • Rotate your torso to the right and look over your right shoulder
  • Take 3 deep breathes and rotate even further an
  • Hold for 30 seconds and return to starting position
  • Switch crossing legs and rotate to the left

Hip flexor stretch

Your hip flexors — which allow you to lift your knees and bend at the waist — are located on your upper thighs, just below your hipbones. To stretch your hip flexors:

  • Kneel on your right knee, cushioning your kneecap with a folded towel.
  • Place your left foot in front of you, bending your knee and placing your left hand on your left leg for stability.
  • Place your right hand on your right hip to avoid bending at the waist. Keep your back straight and abdominal muscles tight.
  • Lean forward, shifting more body weight onto your front leg. You'll feel a stretch in your right thigh.
  • Hold for about 30 seconds.
  • Switch legs and repeat.

Remember to breathe while doing the stretches!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.