Simple Seated Stretches for Upper Back and Shoulder Relief

Simple Seated Stretches for Upper Back

These days most of us are spending longer than we would like hunched over our computers or phones. We are getting all too used to sitting slumped with our heads tipped forward and shoulders rounded. As the weight of our head and shoulders drift forward, this places increased load on the muscles that run either side of the spine, over the tops of the shoulders, and between the shoulder blades.

Simple Seated Stretches

As we sustain this load through hour after hour of Zoom meetings, one of the inevitable side-effects is the familiar feeling of a tight upper back, shoulders, or neck.

We all know how much better we feel when we move, reintroducing hydration and circulation to the muscles tired from holding us in place, but it isn’t always possible to leave our desk or device.

Here’s the good news, though: a few stretches, done regularly, can make the world of difference without you even having to leave your seat.

So set an alarm to chime regularly through your work or study day, and try this simple seated sequence to provide rapid relief for your upper back and shoulders.

1. Overhead Side Stretch

Simple Seated Stretches for Upper Back and Shoulder Relief DIY 01a

Shift forward on the seat of your chair until there’s a little space between your spine and the chair back, setting your feet on the floor hip-width apart.

Clasp your hands, flip your palms away from you, then sweep your arms forward and overhead. Grow as tall as you can by lifting all four sides of your ribcage away from your hips.

As you next exhale, stretch up and over to your right, lengthening the tissues over your left side ribs. Inhale to return to center, then exhale to your second side.

Inhale to return to center, then exhale to bring your clasped hands behind the back of your head with bent elbows out wide.

2. Cat & Cow Flow

As you next inhale, tip forward on your sit bones, arch your back, and press your head into your hands.

Imagine bringing the back of your skull closer to your sacrum, gently contracting your back muscles to open your chest for a deeper breath. As you exhale, tip backward on your sit bones and scoop your belly to round your back.

Draw your chin toward your chest and let your elbows drape by your ears, providing traction all the way down your back and between your shoulder blades.

Flow back and forth with the rhythm of your breath a few times, reintroducing movement into the full length of your spine and refreshing circulation in the muscles surrounding it.

3. Twisting Neck Stretch

Release your hands and turn your ribcage toward the right. Keep even weight on both feet, and your navel pointing forward to focus the rotation on your mid-back.

Catch the back of your seat with your right hand and bring your left hand to your right outer knee or thigh. Lean your right ear toward your right shoulder, looking for a gentle stretch over the left side of your neck.

Take a breath or two here then tuck your chin toward your right collarbone, feeling the stretch shift slightly down your upper back toward your left shoulder blade.

Take one or two slow breaths here before coming back to the center to repeat on the second side.


Our bodies are amazingly resilient, and despite the hours we spend stuck in Zoom meetings it doesn’t take long to refresh our posture and revitalize tired muscles.

Just a couple of minutes flowing through a sequence like this could be just what you need to ease the tension out of your neck, shoulders, and upper back, and leave you feeling better for the rest of your day.