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Headaches at work? 3 simple exercises every desk worker should know


Why do we get headaches from sitting at the computer?

Headaches often result from poor posture at your work station - rounded shoulders, short and tight muscles at the base of the skull and a jammed upper back.. sound familiar?

Osteopaths call this 'upper-crossed syndrome' and it describes a pattern where the muscles at the front of the chest get short and tight; the muscles of the upper back get weak and lengthened.. the knock on affect is tight muscles in the shoulders and at the top of the neck. These tight neck muscles at the base of the skull, your suboccipitals, are usually the main culprit in many patients of mine with headaches.

Easy as 1.. 2.. 3!

So how can we start to correct this? Heres a few exercises that can help you on your way to better posture:

1) Pec stretch - stretch out the front of the chest by putting your forearm against a doorframe - make sure your elbow is in line with your shoulder, then take a small step forward and twist your body away from the arm. Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds to really open up the chest! if there's any pinching in the shoulder, try the stretch with your hand against the doorframe instead of the forearm and straighten out the arm.


2) Neck stretch - this you can do sitting at your desk! Sit on your left hand to give you some traction down the left arm, now put your right arm over your head so the hand is covering the left ear. if you feel with your fingers a little down and back from the ear, you'll find a bony shelf where your fingers can settle in. Now stretch that left side by bringing your right ear towards your right shoulder. Hold that stretch for 30 seconds, and then slowly start to touch the chin down towards the chest and you'll feel the stretch move towards the back of the neck - enjoy :)

3) The dart - lie face down with your arms down by your side (palms up). Start by squeezing your shoulder blades together, then reach the hands down in the direction of the feet to slowly start to lift the chest from the floor using the strength of your mid back - keep your gaze low so that the back of the neck is lengthened. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then slowly lower down again. There should be no lower back pain with this, if you do, then try not to come up so high and switch on your abdominals to protect the lumbar spine. You can do a few sets of this, but over time work on how long you can hold the position for.

Your set-up

Make sure that your workstation is set up correctly for you. Your screen should be at eye level and your shoulders should be relaxed when you're typing at your desk. Another common no-no is spending half the day with a phone perched between your ear and your shoulder - get a headset to avoid the tension building up in the shoulder and neck.

I often ask patients to get a colleague to take a photo of them at work whilst they're completely unawares. This isn't a bad photo op for facebook! This is so we know what their working posture is like when they're half way through the day, slumped in their chair - from this we can make small but significant changes to their workstation. I wonder what your position is like now as you're reading this blog post...... ??

Any questions about something you've seen in this post? Drop me (Rebecca) an email on

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