2021 Blog Post

Seven Chair Stretches for Seniors

#
By VHA
Seated stretches website featured image

With age, our muscles become shorter and lose their elasticity causing a natural decrease in flexibility. These changes can cause chronic pain and make daily activities like getting up from a chair, reaching for items overhead or backing up the car difficult, negatively impacting your independence and quality of life. Although some loss in flexibility is an inevitable part of aging, the saying, ‘if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it,’ really applies here.

A regular stretching routine can help you maintain your strength and mobility, reduce pain, prevent injury and feel better overall. Chair stretches are a great option for older adults because they can be easily modified, reduce your risk of falls and provide the same benefits as standing or floor stretches.

Stretching Tips

  • Always talk to a physiotherapist or another health professional before starting a new stretching program.
  • Only stretch until you feel tension, not to the point of pain.
  • Move slowly, take a deep breath and exhale as you stretch.
  • Never bounce while holding a stretch as this increases your chance of injury.
  • Aim to stretch at least 2-3 times a week along with regular physical activity.
Here are seven stretches that can be done safely seated in a sturdy chair. For all stretches, sit upright, engage your abdominal muscles and keep your hips, knees and feet in-line. 

Neck Side Stretch

Eases tension in your neck and the top of your shoulders.

1. Gently lean your head to one shoulder and then to the other moving slowly to warm up your neck. Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed and stay in the same position.

2. Bring your right ear down to your shoulder, lift your right arm over your head and place your palm on the left side of your head.


3. Apply a very gentle pressure to increase the stretch.

4. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Physiotherapist demonstrates neck side stretch warm-up
VHA Physiotherapist demonstrates step one, neck side stretch warm up
Demonstration of side neck stretch with pressure
Demonstration of neck side stretch with pressure

Spine Twist

Improves digestion, circulation and the range of motion in your spine to relieve back pain.

1. Cross your arms over your chest and slowly twist your upper body to the right. Hold for 30 seconds.


2. Try not to move the rest of your body, keep your hips forward.


3. Repeat, twisting to the left side.

Seated spine twist
Seated spine twist

Shoulder Stretch

Alleviates muscle pain and increases mobility for daily activities.

1. Bring your right arm up and cross it over your body, making sure that you keep your elbow below your shoulder.

2.Hook the left arm above the right elbow and gently pull the right arm closer to your body. Hold for 30 seconds.

3. Repeat on the other side.

Seated shoulder stretch
Seated shoulder stretch

Wide Arm Chest Stretch

Loosens back muscles, opens up your shoulders and chest and helps to correct rounded shoulders.

1. Move both arms out beside you just below 90 degrees.

2. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and down to the ground while looking up. Hold for 30 seconds.

3. If you want to increase the stretch, reach behind you with both hands, pull your shoulders back and clasp your hands together.

4. Gently push your hands away from your lower back, look up and hold for 20 seconds. Release and repeat.

Step one of wide arm chest stretch
Step one of wide arm chest stretch
Step 3-4 of wide arm shoulder stretch
Step three of wide arm chest stretch

Overhead Side Stretch

Improves your range of motion/reach and stretches your abdomen, upper back and shoulders.

1. Raise your right arm over your head, keep your back straight and slowly lean to the left. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds depending on your mobility.

2. Return to centre and repeat the same stretch extending your left arm.

3. If it’s painful or difficult to raise your arms above your head, place your hands on your hips to modify.

Overhead side stretch
Overhead side stretch

Hip and Glutes Stretch

Increases hip flexibility to help you recover from a loss of balance, step to the side, and complete everyday activities like getting out of the car and climbing the stairs.

1. Bring your right leg up, clasp both hands under your knee and hug your leg towards your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with your left knee.

2. Depending on your mobility, cross your right leg over your left and place your ankle on your left knee.

3. Relax your right hip and gravity will pull it towards the ground. Move forward slightly or gently press on your right knee to increase the stretch.

4. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch legs.

hip and glutes stretch part 1
Step one of hip and glutes stretch
hip and glutes stretch part 2
Step two of hip and glutes stretch

Hamstring Stretch


Releases tight hamstrings (the back of your thighs) that can cause lower back pain, make it difficult to put on shoes or socks and can cause stiffness when walking.


1. Extend your right leg in front of you, heel on the ground, toes facing the ceiling.


2. With a straight back, lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for 30 seconds.


3. Do the same on the other side, making sure that you don’t lean too far forwards, and stay secure on the chair.

Hamstring stretch
Hamstring stretch

A VHA physiotherapist can help you modify these stretches depending on your mobility level or to find other seated movements that work for you. Contact VHA’s Private Services team at 416-489-2500 ext. 4649 or by email at privateservices@vha.ca for more information.

To try more strenuous seated exercises with this stretching routine, visit: Eight Chair Exercises for Older Adults with Limited Mobility.  


Reviewed and Demonstrated By: Audrey Letouze, PT