4 desk-suitable stretches to relieve neck tension

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Using display screen equipment (DSE) for long periods of time can cause significant discomfort — particularly in the neck. Laptops and computer monitors are common culprits but hunching over using tablets and smartphones can be a literal ‘pain in the neck’, too!

If you’ve noticed any upper body aches or twinges from working at your desk, the following stretches can help relieve muscle tension in your neck and shoulders, and prevent bad posture.

How DSE can cause neck tension 

You may be aware that working at a desk all day can cause back problems but did you know that 47% of desk workers experience neck pain?

Often neck tension in the workplace arises from a poor workstation set-up. If your screen is too high or low, it can put unnecessary strain on your neck muscles and shoulders and cause you to tense them. Long-term, these issues can lead to chronic pain and poor posture. 

Similarly, staying in the same position for too long causes stiffness, neck tightness, and tension. It restricts blood flow and can cause your muscles to become fatigued more quickly. That’s why it’s important to take regular breaks from your desk — preferably to stand up and walk around. A micro-break every 20 minutes is ideal.

Top stretches to relieve neck tension 

Even if you’ve only been at your desk for a short time, you can try these helpful neck and shoulder stretches to prevent tension from building.

1. Head rolls

This exercise can help relieve neck strain and cervicogenic headaches (a headache that actually originates in the neck).

  • To start, sit up straight with your feet planted on the floor. 
  • Slowly lower your chin towards your chest, then rotate your head to the right so that your ear is directly over your right shoulder. Hold this position for five seconds. 
  • Roll your head slowly back to your chest, then to the left and hold again. 
  • Next, tilt your head and chin up and roll your head in a clockwise circle three times, then anti-clockwise three times. 
  • Repeat the whole sequence twice more.

2. Shoulder rolls

To improve your posture and prevent shoulder and neck pain, take a deep breath in and roll your shoulders backwards in a circular motion, exhaling as you bring them down. Repeat this 10 times, then try it another 10 times, rolling your shoulders forwards.

While this is another excellent seated stretch, you can also try it standing up. 

3. Neck side stretches (lateral flex)

Perfect for getting into the traps and improving neck muscle flexibility, these stretches can be completed standing up or sitting down.

  • Begin by sitting or standing up tall with your shoulders back and down. 
  • Slowly and gently tilt your head to one side until you feel the stretch in the side of your neck and hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds.
  • Slowly move your head back to the middle and repeat on the other side. 
  • Stretch each side 5 to 10 times.

4. Chin to chest (neck flexion stretch)

Also known as a neck flexion stretch, this exercise is great for releasing tension in the back of the neck and at the top of the shoulder blades.

  • The best starting position for this stretch is seated — make sure your back is fully supported. Sit up straight and look forward. 
  • Slowly bend your head forward until your chin touches your chest.
  • Hold the position for 20 seconds, then return to the starting position.
  • Repeat another two to three times.

Are there any neck stretches DSE workers should avoid?

Current research indicates that regular neck stretches are beneficial to anyone who works with DSE, or whose job requires sitting for long periods of time. Therefore, any of the above stretches should be suitable for most DSE workers. 

However, as with anything physical, it’s important to listen to your body. It’s normal to feel a stretch when doing these exercises, but none of them should cause pain, so if you do experience any new discomfort, you should stop immediately and seek treatment from a doctor or physiotherapist.

Ongoing neck tension? It might be time for a DSE assessment…

One of the leading causes of neck pain in the workplace is a poor desk configuration. If you or your employees are taking breaks and stretching regularly and still experiencing neck and shoulder tension, you may want to book a DSE assessment to evaluate your workstations. 

We offer a range of DSE assessment options, including virtual DSE assessments for remote workers and online self-assessments. Feel free to get in touch with the Workhappy team to discuss the best solution for your needs.