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Relieve neck and shoulder pain with office exercises you can do at your desk

3 At-the-Office Exercises to Relieve Tension in Neck and Shoulders

These daily moves target specific upper-back muscles to ease tension and tightness.

You’ve got pens, a keyboard, sticky notes and a to-do list on your desk. You may want to add a tennis ball to the mix.

Why, you ask? Because a tennis ball, when used for a stretching exercise, could be a tool in your arsenal to help relieve neck and shoulder pain. This common type of pain will affect many people at some point in their life — and two possible causes include prolonged sitting and working in the same position for a long time. 1 2

“There is talk that sitting is the new smoking,” says Dr. Kevin Lynch, a chiropractor based in Lexington, Ky. “For America, it’s a big challenge.”

What’s more? Tension headaches may often co-exist with neck and shoulder pain. Specifically, studies show that tension-type headaches often occur alongside an increase in tenderness in the neck and shoulder muscles. 3

But there are steps you can take to help ease pain while at work. Lynch advises using a 30/30 rule, where you set a timer on your computer, then get up every 30 minutes to stretch or walk to the water cooler. The idea is that after 30 minutes in the same position, you start to let you posture go. So if you move around a bit, you’ll have better posture for the following 30 minutes. Another option? Try one of these office exercises, suggested by L.A.-based personal trainer Astrid Swan McGuire.

Office Exercise 1: Tennis Ball Stretch

Place the tennis ball in the area between your neck and shoulders and sandwich the ball with your body against your office wall or door. Hold for 15 seconds before you start gently rolling across your upper back and shoulders. You can also use a Trigger Point Therapy Ball for this desk exercise. But one point for the tennis ball: It’s portable. “I always travel with one and keep one in my gym bag,” says McGuire.


Office Exercise 2: Wall Squats

Stand with your back against the wall, your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms up in goal post position. Lower your body into a squat, making sure your knees are aligned with your heels and that your back is pressed flat against the wall. Hold, then glide your arms up to straighten and return back to goal post, all while keeping each body part glued to the wall. “This requires no equipment,” says McGuire, “but will strengthen your muscles in your back and shoulders to help keep your head and body tall.”

Office Exercise 3: Desk Planks

Place your hands on the edge of your desk and walk your feet back so you are in an incline plank position. Shift your body weight forward, engaging your abs. Lift right arm forward, then up, to loosen tightness in your shoulders. McGuire says this move works your stabilizing muscles in your core. Feeling really bold? “If you are advanced (and no one is looking) do this in full plank on the floor,” McGuire says.


1. Walker-Bone K, Cooper C. Hard work never hurt anyone: or did it? A review of occupational associations with soft tissue musculoskeletal disorders of the neck and upper limb. Ann Rheum Dis. 2005;64:1391-1396.

2. Ariens GAM, Bongers PM, Douwes M, et al. Are neck flexion, neck rotation, and sitting at work risk factors for neck pain? Results of a prospective cohort study. Occup Environ Med. 2001;58:200-207.

3. The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd Edition (beta version). Cephalalgia. 2013;33(9):629-808.

Tags: headache tips, headache prevention, stress headaches

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