Beat Back Pain at Work: 5 Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk

Recent research shows the average North American office worker sits for about 10 hours a day. This includes time spent at a desk, often hunched over reading emails and typing, as well as sitting down for meals and relaxing after work watching TV or checking Facebook.

As you might expect, all that chair and computer time isn’t doing us any favors. In fact, Deborah Read, founder of ErgoFit Consulting, a global ergonomics consulting company based in Seattle, says desk-bound workers often struggle with pain in their lower backs, upper shoulders and necks, not to mention achy forearms and wrists.

Beyond the aches and pains that come with bad posture and less-than-ergonomic desk setups, simply spending hours upon hours sitting can have long-term negative ramifications for your health. Research reveals that too much sedentary time significantly increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even shortens your life span.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help prevent office work-related pain and get you moving. Read’s firm has shared five exercises desk workers can do at or near their desk to break up sitting time, improve posture and lessen pain.

She suggests trying one exercise each hour to start. Once you feel comfortable with the movements, you can then do a number of them together or increase the number of reps you’re doing.

1. The monster walk

This isn’t as scary as it sounds — it’s simply walking with exaggerated arm swings and extra-long strides for five to 10 seconds at a time. You’ll get blood moving through your legs and body and break up your chair time.

2. A simple squat

Stand up from your chair and squat down. Push your backside out and make sure your knees don’t bend past the tips of your toes. Hold for a count of two, and then stand up. Do three reps. “Our physiology changes when we sit,” Read says. “Just by moving more, you can reset your metabolism.” Another fun fact? Squats help build your lower body strength.

3. Hamstring curls

Begin by standing up straight — you can hold onto the edge of your desk or chair for balance if necessary. Then, squeeze your glutes together and, without using your hand, bring one heel toward your buttock. Hold for three seconds each, and do three reps on each side. Read says that sitting can cause your hamstrings to weaken. “And when your hamstrings are weak, you get back pain,” she says. “This movement turns your hamstrings on.”

4. The field goal

Stand with your heels, hips, back and head against a wall. In a field-goal position — so, with both of your arms at 90-degree angles pointing upward — place upper arms, backs of forearms, and backs of hands as flat as possible against wall. Press your elbows and hands into the wall. Do three reps. This exercise is an attempt to reverse the hunched over, slouched-back position you may be in most of the day. “It’s posture correcting,” Read says.

5. Desk plank

Stand up and place your forearms or hands on the edge of your desk. Tighten your abs and then step a foot or two away from your desk, keeping your body straight (no back-sagging) at an incline. Hold for three counts and do three reps. This builds core strength, which can help alleviate back pain. You can also plank with straight arms for a more challenging version of this exercise.

In total, these exercises take a few minutes. Read explains that these five movements aren’t meant to be a workout — you shouldn’t break a sweat or get out of breath. They’re also not a replacement for proper ergonomic equipment, but overall they can be a helpful tool in alleviating desk work-related pain and get you out of your chair on a regular basis.