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Reduce Neck and Back Pain with Self Joint Mobilizations

Joint mobilizations are a technique often used by physiotherapists to increase movement/function at a joint and decrease pain. In place of hands on joint mobilizations we can perform targeted mobility exercises to get the same benefit. I commonly have patients come in complaining of back and neck pain as a result of long periods of sitting. If you work a desk job and are experiencing some pain or discomfort in your neck or back, below are a series of exercises that can be done to help manage and prevent pain. These can all be done while sitting at your desk with minimal equipment.

1. Neck Snag: focus on neck rotation

  • use a towel, sweater, or scarf and lay it around your neck

  • cross your hands in front of your chest and use your left hand to hold the end of the towel coming the from right side of your neck, and vice versa

  • stabilize your right hand on your chest holding on to one end of the towel

  • with your left hand gently pull the towel towards the left so you get a nice stretch in your neck, there should be no pain with this exercise

  • repeat 10x/side; 1-3x/day

  • IMPORTANT: ensure the towel stays across the jaw bone as to not put pressure on the throat

2. Book Opener: focus on torso rotation

  • start by sitting up tall at the edge of your chair with both hands out in front of you

  • pull one arm back as if you’re pulling back an arrow, try to rotate as much as possible through your torso with this movement

  • your head should rotate with your torso for full spinal rotation

  • return hand back to start

  • repeat 10x/side, 1-3x/day

3. Seated Cat/Cow: focus on full spinal flexion/extension

  • start sitting at the edge of your chair with hands on your knees

  • flex forward through your mid and low back as you drop your head down to your chest

  • then sit up tall pushing your chest forward and lifting your head up towards the roof

  • alternate between these two positions 10x, 1-3x/day


    • only move your neck as far as comfortable, if this is bothersome for your neck, keep it in a neutral position the whole time

    • all of these exercises should be pain-free and gentle movements, you should not be forcing yourself into any ranges

    • if you have a pre-existing injury, bone related medical conditions such as osteoporosis, or history of spinal compression fracture, please do not complete these exercises without consulting a medical professional as they may not be suitable for you

Jayme Gordon graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Master's degree in Physical Therapy. Prior to this she completed a Bachelor's of Science Kinesiology degree at the University of Victoria. She is a member of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association as well as the Physiotherapy Association of BC. Jayme has a passion for working with a diverse patient population ranging from athletes to community dwelling seniors. Book with Jayme today.


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