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WFH a pain in the neck? We’ve got your back

Only got minutes to spare but heading towards a dowager's hump? We've got your back. Here's seven quick and easy exercises to keep you out of the physios

Zoom chin, WFH hump, I’m-on-the-phone-and-getting-a-pizza-out-of-the-oven crick… How many of these working from home niggles can you tick off our list? All of them? Us too. Whether we’re hunched over the dining room table, sliding down the sofa with a laptop on our knees or hiding in the airing cupboard for the monthly sales meeting, our postures are suffering.

We all know about the ergonomics – knees lined up with hips, elbows lined up with wrists, monitor at eye level, support in the small of your back… But we’ve got the laptop stand and lumbar support, and we’re still suffering. The experts say it’s time to get moving.

At Tops Physio in Oxford they are tackling all manner of desk-induced back and neck niggles and suggest regular ‘movement snacks’ to keep pain-free. Sadly this doesn’t mean popping to the larder for a KitKat… it means regular movement rather than saving up for one big walk at lunchtime.

Minimally, this can be exercises at your desk or even while you’re on that tedious conference call (though we’d advise turning the camera off). Kate Clark of Buckinghamshire-based Pilates with Kate is a big fan of the humble shoulder roll to relieve pressure and as a quick fix for bad posture.

But once you’re in the zone it can be hard to tear yourself away – who doesn’t love a spreadsheet? Helen Wright of Oxfordshire recruitment agency 923 Jobs says back pain accounts for a whopping 12 million working days lost in the UK every year. She’s trying to avoid being one of them by doing 15 minutes of yoga before she starts work as well as warming up wrists and fingers before touching the keyboard. Treat work like a marathon – Hell, it feels like it some days.

Sarah O’Hanlon of Yogapath says her yogis are suffering hunched shoulders and tension in their backs because they’re leaning in to be closer to the screen on video calls, especially when looking at multiple small boxes on the call. Sarah recommends yoga stretches and says that doing snippets of yoga also improves focus and reduces stress.

So if you want to stay sane and out of the physio clinic – tempting though an hour’s peace sounds – you need to make desk stretches a habit. There are even posture reminder apps you can download to give you a digital poke every hour, just search your app store.

Only got minutes to spare? We’ve got your back. Here are stretches you can do between calls, on calls and at the kettle.

90 seconds between calls

Shoulder Rotations help relieve strains of desk/laptop work and maintain posture of shoulders and chest. Place fingers lightly onto tops of shoulders. Rotate both elbows forwards in a large circle. Try to touch elbows at front of chest, brush ears, brush sides of trunk for full, expansive movement. 10 circles clockwise, then anti.


Seated Twist keeps the spine flexible and stretches muscles of back and abdomen, relieves lumbago and muscular spasms and aids digestion. With sitting bones grounded, feet flat, shoulders relaxed, draw your shoulder blades down your back ribs. Inhale as you lift up through crown. Exhale there. Take left hand to outside right knee and right hand to the back of the chair. Press through right fingertips as you inhale and lengthen the spine. Exhale to twist and gaze over the right shoulder. As you inhale, make more space between the vertebrae, as you exhale, twist and gaze back. Inhale gaze then body to centre. Repeat to the left. 


Scapula squeezes – standing, arms down by your side, draw the shoulders together, lift the chest and turn the palms to face forward.


V arm stretches over head – stand tall and draw your tummy in, lift your chest and reach your hands over head into a v shape, wide open at your hands, creating space between your shoulders and your ears (think Kate Winslet in Titanic).


Two minutes waiting for the kettle to boil

Arm circles (also called chalk circles) – sit or stand with feet/legs hip width, arms are held out straight in front in line with your shoulders, inhale and engage your core, as you exhale, lift one arm up to begin drawing a circle and as the arm brushes past your ear allow your upper body to rotate a little and take your gaze/head with the arm movement as it reaches back to complete circle to that side. This movement gently moves your shoulder into a good position (the opposite of letting it roll forward as we do at the computer). Do eight reps on this side and then repeat with the other arm to the other side of the body.


Squat with overhead reach – sit back, imagine there is a chair behind you and reach your arms up, in line with your head and ears, draw in your tummy and feel the upper back work. Hold each for 3-4 breaths.


Cow Faced Pose, also known as Gomukasana, improves posture and helps stretch pectoralis minor – a muscle which shortens when we are hunched for too long. Take a belt or scarf into your right hand and reach the arm up. Take left arm out to shoulder height and internally rotate then reach behind your back, pressing back of hand to spine. Bend right elbow allowing belt to drop into left hand. Or interlace fingers if they reach. Stretch right elbow to ceiling, draw left elbow to floor. Repeat to left.


More tips for WFH health and happiness:

When low mood becomes depression and how to tackle it in yourself, family and friends

Get lean in lockdown – the best online fitness classes

Zoom wrinkles ARE a thing – here’s our winter skin SOS

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