3 Stretches to Beat Back Pain without Getting Up from Your Chair

Desk work is a real pain in the neck, back, shoulders … Why suffer? Release the tension fast without getting up from your chair with these three chair stretches and our photo how-to guide.

While you can do some of these using a regular office chair, these stretches were chosen by a chiropractor for the exercise guide that comes with the Gaiam Balance Ball Chair featured on Good Morning America and in a Wall Street Journal review of the best office chairs.

First, sit in Positive Seated Posture

You'll begin two of these exercises in Positive Seated Posture. Some of this is just smart ergonomics, regardless of what kind of office chair you have. And if you're using a Balance Ball Chair, this sitting position alone is designed to provide a slew of physical and health benefits:

  • Relieve stress on the spine and muscle fatigue throughout the body, especially in the back, neck, hips and hamstring area.
  • Prevent back pain, repetitive motion disorders and other health issues related to poor posture.
  • Tone and strengthen your abs, back and other core (torso) muscles while you sit, because your midsection has to work harder to keep you upright — whereas in a standard office chair the body tends to slump and slouch, leaving the core muscles slack and inactive.

Here's how to sit in Positive Seated Posture position:

  • Sit upright with sit bones directly on top-center of chair or ball. Thighs and shins should be at a 90-degree angle to floor.  
  • If hips are raised higher than knees, lower seat or deflate ball until you achieve a 90-degree angle. 
  • If hips are lower than knees, raise seat or inflate ball until you achieve a 90-degree angle.
  • You can use a foot riser (set it to be level, parallel with the floor) below your desk to help you achieve a 90-degree angle, but do not use the riser during the stretches or exercises; use it only for sitting at your desk.

How to Sit in Positive Seated Posture on the BalanceBall Chair

In proper Positive Seated Posture, the spine should feel long and upright, and you should feel the natural curve in the lower back. Torso should feel completely balanced on the chair, without excess weight on the feet. If your torso is falling forward with excess weight on your feet, you may be seated too far forward. If you don’t feel the natural lower-back curve or feel little or no weight on your feet, you may be seated too far back. 

CAUTION: If you're using a Balance Ball Chair, do NOT lean back against support bar. The bar is designed only for stability during exercises and only as shown in the Desktop Guide that comes with the chair.

Seated Forward Bend on the BalanceBall Chair

Exercise #1: Seated Forward Bend

The numerous benefits of this exercise include releasing tension in the spine, stretching the lower back and hamstring muscles, energizing the brain and central nervous system, and slowing the heart rate. Do this stretch anytime you need to take a quiet break and unwind.

  • Begin in Positive Seated Posture (see above).
  • Inhale, raising arms overhead.
  • Exhale and fold forward from waist, leading with chest and dropping torso to thighs.
  • Reach hands to floor, allowing arms to hang relaxed from shoulders. Seated Forward Bend on the BalanceBall Chair
  • Inhale deeply; on exhale, let torso ease further into thighs.
  • Keep neck soft and let it drop comfortably from shoulders down between knees. Try not to spread legs apart; keep positive balance between feet and sit bones.
  • Relax shoulders, feeling as if shoulder blades are falling down away from neck.
  • Hold for 10 long, comfortable breaths; release and repeat two to three times.

You can also do the Seated Forward Bend exercise with your legs extended (not bent at the knee) straight out in front of you or out to the sides at a 45-degree angle.

Seated Hip Stretch on the BalanceBall Chair

Exercise #2: Seated Hip Stretch

Many of us spend extended periods of time seated; this can result in tight hips, unbalanced posture and an inefficient stride. This seated stretch initiates a deep stretch of the hip joints, creating flexibility in the knees and buttocks and promoting better posture and a more efficient stride. 

  • Begin in Positive Seated Posture (see above).
  • Fold left leg across right knee. Left ankle should rest just outside right leg.  
  • Reach tall through spine, keeping neck and shoulders relaxed.  
  • Maintain balance over waist without losing the natural curve of lower spine. Seated Hip Stretch on the BalanceBall Chair
  • Inhale; on exhale, fold forward from waist, leading with chest and dropping torso down to thighs and crossed leg.  
  • Reach hands down to floor, allowing arms to hang relaxed from shoulders.  
  • Keep foot flexed. Breathe evenly and comfortably.  
  • Hold for five long breaths; release and repeat two to three times.  
  • Repeat on right side.   

Exercise #3: Spine Stretch

This exercise is designed specifically for the Gaiam Balance Ball Chair. It would be tough to do this move on a regular office chair (even one without arms), and we don't recommend trying it, since the curve of the ball is what affords the fantastic arch and stretch of the spine in this move.

But it's SUCH a wonderful stretch — as you well know if you've ever done this move using a standard Balance Ball or exercise ball on the floor — that we wanted to include it here.

Spine Stretch on BalanceBall Chair

This stretch helps lengthen and realign the spine, hips and waist. It initiates a deep stretch of the thoracic cavity, opening the chest and increasing lung capacity. It also helps counteract the effects of slouching and hunching of the shoulders.

  • Begin by sitting sideways on lower edge of chair.
  • Place hands on ball and support bar for stability.
  • Lie back over ball, reaching hands and legs out. Keep hands and legs at shoulder-width for stability, feet flat on floor.  
  • Be sure hips are positioned directly on top of ball. The hips are the centerline of the body for this stretch. Spine Stretch on BalanceBall Chair
  • Breathe deeply, letting torso and legs fall freely from hips and waist.  
  • Keep shoulders and neck relaxed, reaching long through hands.  
  • Close your eyes; breathe deeply for a few minutes.  
  • When ready, slowly curl yourself up to a seated position, resting for a moment before standing up.

You can also do this exercise in reverse, flipping over and placing your abdomen on the ball.

Want more information about using Balance Balls for work and fitness? Find it in our Balance Ball Solutions Guide!

Shop our Balance Ball Chair and Gaiam Balance Balls.

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xstickiesx's picture
User offline. Last seen 7 years 2 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 07/20/2009

All of these seem to be a good aid for back and neck pain, but the last one just doesn't look practical to be doing at the office, I would save that one for home...

Rick Olderman
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User offline. Last seen 7 years 5 days ago. Offline
Joined: 08/19/2009

This is a decent general article although these stretches may not be appropriate for back pain depending on the cause. Also, sitting in an unsupported position activates the iliopsoas muscle which runs from the thigh bone and attaches to the lower lumbar vertebrae and disks. Continual activation of this muscle can result in back pain. Additionally as a result of not using the back of a chair, muscle creep results in gradual over-lengthening of back muscles and ligaments which can lead to back pain.

Sonia Gallagher
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User offline. Last seen 5 years 46 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 04/17/2009

Good information in this article. I've suffered from lower back pains for the past 7 years. I've found that yoga, pilates, and following guided meditation videos has really been helpful. These techniques have not only helped to strengthen my muscles but they've also enabled me to relax a lot of stress and tension which I was like most people carrying on my back muscles!

swatbolish's picture
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Joined: 04/23/2010

Most people think that to stand up straight means tensing your back to heave your chest 'in and up', and pulling your head back in to your chest. This is not so. The spine has two natural curves that you need to maintain called the 'double C' or 'S' curves, these are the curves found from the base of your head to your shoulders and the curve from the upper back to the base of the spine.

studyaids's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 years 8 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 06/24/2011

A helpful post. I started the three stretches at the beginning of the week and I'm feeling a little pain but more flexibility... How strange? I do hope this will help my lower back pain. Steve

jordanlove555's picture
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I like this website very much, the contents of this website are so good, I really appreciate what the writer writes, they are so good.

Marcia E.
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User offline. Last seen 5 years 7 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 07/07/2011

These are great flexibility exercises. But, showing modifications would have been a good idea. For example, the seated hip stretch would be impossible for those with hips that won't rotate outward. Many of us, even regular yoga practicioners, cannot rotate hips enough to be able to put their hands on the floor from this seated position. A picture showing the model folded forward from the hips, holding on to the folded leg would have been nice. Modifications should be encouraged rather than ignored. Including a small picture showing simple modifications would have been nice.

tasuangle758's picture
User offline. Last seen 2 years 3 days ago. Offline
Joined: 08/21/2014

Hence, the pain message reaches the brain back and neck pain.The process is different depending on the percentage rate of the fibers in place
back pain relief.

Anonymous's picture

The ball balance chair is wishful thinking. This would not be allowed in our office. So that article is not at all practical for those of us forced to use a regular office chair. How about something for that?

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