Working from home: The best 8 stretches to loosen stiffness in your neck, back and hips


The global shift to working from home comes with its upsides: more flexibility, no commute and office Ugg boots.

A year ago, we envisaged a work life of sleep-ins and no more lunchboxes, but the reality of it found plenty of downsides - one of them being a more sedentary lifestyle. Research has recently revealed that since the shift to working from home, Australians are blurring the work and home boundaries as they are now working an additional 5.25 hours of unpaid overtime.

“A common issue we've seen with patients this past year is work-related neck and back pain”, says Melbourne CBD Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine and Co-Director Tim Sayer, who has been treating patients for over 8 years on these issues. 

As we see more patients presenting with a similar story, Melbourne CBD Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine has put together some easy stretches and exercises that will:

  • Help alleviate neck, back and hip pain
  • Assist with preventing pain and stiffness in the first place
  • Offer some easy ways we can move at our desk (or with the Zoom camera off!)

“Working from home caused many of us to lose the incidental things a regular work schedule gave us such as walking to and from work, and sticking to a healthy exercise routine like playing golf, cycling, gym or yoga," said Tim.

"I think a lot of us underestimated the effect such a change in our routine would have on our overall health. Even though physical health is just one part of the sum, spending an extra 5 hours sitting at our desks eats into our mental and social health, too".

Tim says that for people who have made the transition to working from home, many are finding it hard to reach the same level of physical activity their bodies are accustomed to. “It's common for us to see seated work-induced stiffness and pain in the neck, back and hips”.

Keeping a baseline of activity during the day is the best way to prevent work-from-home stiffness. For starters, Tim says to check if your desk is ergonomically set up. 

  • Your knees and hips should be at 90 degrees, with your feet flat on the floor. 
  • If your chair is less than ideal, place a cushion behind your lower back to support your posture.
  • Position your computer at eye level (sitting tall) to discourage unnecessary neck and thoracic flexion 
  • Make sure you get up at least once every hour for a lap around the house. Set a timer on your computer to remind you to move.  
  • Be proactive about your neck, back and hip pain and take 5 minutes during your lunch break to work through a quick set of exercises to freshen up for the remainder of the day.

“We know that the work from home period has had a huge impact on the mental health of Australians. Looking after ourselves physically will make huge contributions to our overall wellbeing”, Tim said.

Tim’s eight 30-second exercises to reduce stiffness in your neck, back and hips

These exercises can be easily done proactively and reactively. They will help ward off the stiffness you'll feel after prolonged periods of sitting, encourage joint mobility and offer a gentle way to stretch keep moving throughout the day. Some can even be done at your desk.

Loads more neck, back and hip exercises can be found in our exercise library. (Hint: the password is outcomes). If you’re experiencing neck, back and hip pain, we understand just how debilitating that can be. While working from home might seem like it'll never end, your pain can. Visit one of our experienced Melbourne CBD Physiotherapy and Sports Medicines to keep topping up on your overall health sum.

1. Superman
1. Superman - Maintain core control and balance while performing this exercise. Allowing the upper and lower body to work together, this is often prescribed to anyone with pelvic instability, low back pain/stiffness or poor proprioception that’s looking to improve important movement patterns.

2. QL Stretch
2. QL Stretch - An effective way to perform a stretch for the muscles around the side of your trunk. This stretch should be held for a short time while remaining relaxed through the entire movement. This is often prescribed for anyone with low or mid back stiffness or tight gluteal and hamstring muscles.

3. Thoracic extension and rotation
3. Thoracic extension and rotation - A simple way to stretch the thoracic spine using a foam roller. Ensure the body is relaxed before you start, take the stretch into a position that’s comfortable. This is often prescribed for anyone looking to increase mobility in the low-mid back or stretch out those tight muscles along the spine.

4. Lower back extension
4. Lower back extension - This provides a gentle approach to a safe mobility exercise for the lumbar spine. This is can be prescribed in the early stages for anyone with lumbar spine pain who is getting symptomatic relief from going into lumbar extension. This exercise is helpful for people experiencing stiffness and wanting to maintain mobility without going through large range. you can progress this by beginning with your palms facing down and raising up with straight arms to achieve more low back extension.

5. Knee cross over rotations
5. Knee cross over rotations - This is a safe mobility exercise for the lower back and hip. The gentle back and forth motion is performed in a comfortable position on your back with your leg crossed over the other and could be prescribed for anyone suffering from a stiff low back or tight gluteal muscles.

6. Cat stretch
6. Cat Stretch - This is a safe mobility exercise for the thoracic (mid) spine. The fluent arching and flattening of the spine should be comfortable, and is often prescribed to anyone suffering from a stiff low-mid back or general muscular tightness.

7. Seated Retractions
7. Seated retractions - This is an effective way to activate the deep cervical neck flexors in a seated position. These muscles are found at the front of the neck and require strength and endurance to support our head. This exercise is often prescribed for anyone suffering from whiplash symptoms, headaches or are looking to improve their sitting posture.

8. Single leg hip thrust
8. Single leg hip thrust - This exercise is a great way to isolate the muscles in the posterior hip. Our physiotherapists really understand the importance of unilateral strength, and use this exercise as a way to develop unilateral strength especially if there is a continued discrepancy in the hip complex from a capacity point of view.

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