How to Stretch Your Lower Back at Your Desk

Sitting is perhaps the worst of all positions for back and disc health. One big reason is that it puts a lot of compression on your spinal column. If you sit a lot for your job, you probably feel this by the end of the day, or even before.

Businessman stretching at desk
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What to do?

Experts recommend taking movement breaks at least once per hour. Many exercises exist for you to choose from, which means you can tailor your break to where you feel the effects of sitting the most. 

If it's a backstretch you need, the instructions below may do the trick; this move is recommended for some people by the American Physical Therapy Association.

But before you jump in and start this stretch, a few bits of advice are in order:

  • In the case of an existing back injury or pain, ask your doctor or physical therapist if this exercise is appropriate for you given your specific and individual condition before trying it.
    This article only describes how to do the backstretch; it does not recommend that you do it. Only your medical professionals can give you the O.K. That said, if you do have a back problem, particularly if it's related to one or more discs, this exercise may not be right for you.
  • Many people think they know where their hip joints are, but when asked to point to or touch the specific location, they start to realize that their knowledge is only vague at best. To get this low back desk stretch to work for you and also to keep your back safe while performing it, taking a moment to find these key joints is a good idea.
    The hip joint is the place where the thigh bone connects into the pelvic bone. It's more complicated than that, but if you think of the hips in this way, it may help you find the general area from which you will perform the stretch.
  • ​The exact location is a few inches to either side of the midline or centerline of the pelvic bone, which is a joint known as the pubis symphysis.

Establish Your Starting Position

You may do this stretch either sitting or standing. 

If you are sitting, position yourself towards the front edge of your chair, with your two sitting bones firmly and evenly contacting the seat. Although the contact is firm, avoid gripping or otherwise creating excess tension in your thigh and buttock muscles. 

If you are standing, place your feet so they point forward. Try to keep them relaxed but fully contacting the floor.

Move Into the Stretch

Inhale, then exhale and fold your trunk over your thighs. This movement comes from the hip joints and not the back, and is why the location of the hip joints was reviewed above. Keep your back relaxed, but relatively straight for this phase of the stretch.


  • To support your back, pull your lower ab muscles in towards your spine as you exhale. 
  • Keep the front of your hips (i.e., your quadriceps muscles where they cross over your hip joints) as soft and relaxed as you can. This will help you use your ab muscles for supporting your back, and it may also help access a muscle called the psoas. The psoas is a back-friendly muscle that flexes the hips.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed as you do this movement. This helps isolate the action at the hips, making the stretch that much more effective.
  • Let your head hang down like a rag doll.

Come Back to the Start Position

The return movement starts at the pelvis and sequences up through your spine.

Inhale again, then exhale and recommit to softening the front of your hips as well as pulling your abs in to help support your back.

Uncurl your spine, beginning at the pelvis. 


  • ​Keep your abs engaged as you come up.
  • If you are doing the standing version, also engage the hamstring and glute muscles, located at the back of the thigh, to help you up.
  • Give each vertebra a chance to luxuriate in the uncurling movement.
    Try to be aware of which parts of your spine tend to move in 'clumps', i.e. where the vertebrae cannot uncurl independently when it's their turn. Achieving more movement independence between adjacent vertebrae makes for a good flexibility goal.
    But for safety's sake, take it in steps; the idea is to achieve flexibility over time, not all at once.
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  • Moffat, Marilyn, P.T. Ph.D. and Vickery, Steve. The American Physical Therapy Association Book of Body Maintenance and Repair. Owl Books. Henry Holt and Company, LLC. New York, New York, 1999.