Ergonomic Stretches

Stretching is one part of a successful ergonomics program that can help to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and pain and discomfort in general. Stretching allows your body time to recover, relax, and prepare for the next session. It does the same for the mind, allowing you a chance to relax, so you can return with more energy and focus. Frequent stretching will also help prevent muscles from getting stiff and reduce discomfort.

When it comes to stretching to prevent MSD's shorter, more frequent breaks are preferred over longer breaks. It is generally recommended that you pause and stretch at least once per hour. If your job consists of continuous data entry, it is recommended that you take a 5 minute stretch break every 30 minutes. If you feel any body part getting stiff between your stretch breaks, take a moment, and stretch it out. If it is impractical to take a break for this long, remember that taking a short break, even 30 seconds, is better than none at all.

It is important to stand up and move around when you stretch. This allows your body to have a change in posture and will also help to minimize stiffness and fatigue. It is also suggested that if you are doing an activity where you do not have to be sitting, such as talking on the phone, that you perform it while standing up.

When working on a computer you should occasionally look away from the screen, and focus your eyes on a distant object. This will allow your eyes a chance to relax and help prevent eye strain.

The following stretches for the neck and shoulders, hand and forearm, back, and legs will help to reduce discomfort during the workday.

Hand and forearm stretches

Wrist tilt

Wrist tilt

Purpose: To stretch wrist and forearm.

With hand open and facing down, gently bend wrist from side to side, as far as possible. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 3 times.

Wrist rotation

Wrist rotation

Purpose: To stretch wrist and forearm.

Start by stretching your arm and hand out and slowly rotate the wrist down until you feel a stretch. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds.

Wrist flexion/rotation

Wrist flexion and extension

Purpose: To stretch wrist and forearm.

Grasp hand and hold fingers with the other hand. Slowly bend wrist down until you feel a stretch. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Relax. Repeat 3 times. Repeat with slow upward bend of the wrist to point of gentle stretch. Hold & relax.

Finger stretch

FInger stretch

Purpose: To stretch wrist and forearm.

A. Start with your hand open.


B. Make a fist.

Fist with fingertips at base of palm

C. Touch your fingertips to the base of your palm, keeping the thumb straight.

Fist as a hook

D. Gently make a hook. Slide your finger tips up your palm so the tips of your fingers are near the base of your fingers and you should feel a stretch. Don’t force your fingers with your other hand if something is painful.

Neck and shoulders

Shoulder shrug

Shoulder shrug stretch
Purpose: to relieve early symptoms of tightness or tension in the shoulder and neck area.

Stand up. Raise the top of your shoulders towards your ears until you feel slight tension in your neck and shoulders. Hold this feeling of tension for 3 to 5 seconds. Then relax your shoulders downward into their normal position. Do this 2 or 3 times.

Head glide

Head glide stretch

Purpose: To stretch chest, and shoulder muscles.

Stand upright. Without lifting your chin, glide your head straight back. You know you are doing this exercise right if it gives you the feeling of a double chin. Hold for 20 counts and repeat 5 to 10 times.

Neck relaxer

Neck relaxer stretch

Purpose: To relax neck muscles.

Stand up. Drop your head slowly to the left, trying to touch your left ear to your left shoulder. Repeat on the right side. Slowly drop your chin to your chest, turn your head all the way to the left, then turn all the way to the right.

Shoulder roll

Shoulder roll stretch

Purpose: To relax shoulder muscles.

Slowly roll your shoulders backward 5 times in a circular motion. Then roll shoulders forward 5 times.


Low back stretch

Lower back stretch

Purpose: To relax the muscles of the low back, and to neutralize the spine.

Stand up. Lightly reach towards the ceiling. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Now reach a little harder while taking a deep breath. Hold for 5 seconds. Relax.

Back/side stretch

Back or side stretch

Purpose: To relax the back and side muscles.

Interlace your fingers and lift your arms over your head, keeping the elbows straight. Press arms as far back as you can. To stretch your sides, slowly lean to the left and then to the right.

Middle/upper back stretch

Middle or upper back stretch

Purpose: To stretch upper and middle back muscles.

Hold your right arm with your left hand just above the elbow. Gently push your elbow toward your left shoulder. Hold stretch for 5 seconds. Repeat with your left arm.


Calf stretch

Calf stretch

Purpose: To stretch ankle muscles.

Stand up. Place 1 foot 1-2 feet behind the other. Then slowly move forward, while keeping your heel on the ground, until you feel a light stretch in your calf. Hold for 5-15 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.

Leg lift

Lef lift stretch

Purpose: Stretch leg muscles.

Sit forward on the chair so that your back is not touching the chair's back. Place feet flat on the floor. With a straight leg, lift one foot a few inches off the floor. Hold momentarily, and return your foot to the floor. Repeat with the other leg.

Reference: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 1996. Office Ergonomics Safety Guide.