Neck Stretches For Pain

Interlace your fingers behind your back, resting your hands on the small of your lower back and pulling the shoulders down and back. From here, drop your right ear to your right shoulder, and hold for a few breaths. Then switch sides.

Neck Stretches

When the head and shoulders drift forward due to poor posture, some muscles in the chest and neck can shorten and become tight over time, which can perpetuate the poor posture that is causing neck pain.

Profile view of woman doing the flexion neck stretch

The following stretching exercises can help loosen postural muscles and may reduce neck pain.

Corner Stretch

A basic exercise that is important for stretching the chest and shoulder muscles is the corner stretch. It is performed in the corner of a room.

This stretch is done as follows:

  • Stand approximately two feet back from the corner, facing into the corner.
  • Feet should be together.
  • Forearms are placed on each wall, and elbows are a little below shoulder height.
  • Lean in as far as possible without pain. Patients will feel a stretch in the front of the shoulders and chest.
  • Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds to a minute.

This stretch can be performed 3 to 5 times per day. It is a good one to do before neck strengthening exercises.

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Levator Scapulae Stretch

4 Easy Stretches for Neck and Shoulder Pain

See how to correctly perform the levator scapulae stretch and several other stretches for neck pain. View Slideshow: 4 Easy Stretches for Neck and Shoulder Pain

There are two levator scapulae muscles—one on each side of the neck—that attach to the top four transverse processes and go down to the shoulder. This muscle can become tight and may be tender where it attaches to the shoulder blade. Stretching this muscle can play a role in reducing neck pain.

The levator scapulae stretch can be performed while sitting or standing as follows:

  • Lengthen the muscle by raising the elbow above the shoulder at the side to stretch.
  • In this position, first rest the elbow against a door jamb. This action rotates the outside of the shoulder blade up and the inside of it down, which lengthens the levator scapulae muscle.
  • Next, turn the head away from the side that is stretching and bring the chin down, stretching the back of the neck.
  • Hold this for about 30 seconds to a minute.

In This Article:

  • Neck Exercises for Neck Pain
  • What to Consider Before Starting Exercises for Neck Pain
  • Neck Stretches
  • Neck Strengthening Exercises
  • Trigger Point Exercises for Neck Pain
  • 4 Easy Stretches for Neck and Shoulder Pain Video

If desired, the levator scapulae stretch can be repeated multiple times during the day.

Stretches for the neck should never be done to the point of pain or soreness. Appropriate pain management is often an important part of any neck stretching routine.

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Common Neck Stretch to Avoid

Neck circles, which involve the slow rotation of the head being tilted and rolled in a full circle, have been performed by most people in gym class or while participating in a sport or dance class. However, research shows that the combination of extending the head backward and rotating it puts undue stress on the cervical spine. Compared to other neck movements, neck circles could also cause more compression of the arteries that take blood to the brain. 1 Middleditch A, Oliver J. Blood supply of the spinal cord and the vertebral column. In: Functional Anatomy of the Spine. 2nd ed. London, England: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann. 2005: 153-72.

Especially for a person who has been dealing with neck pain, neck circles are typically not recommended.

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When to Do Stretches

Some experts recommend stretching tight muscles before strengthening weak muscles. The theory is that tight muscles relax after being stretched, and then subsequent strengthening exercises are more effective. However, this theory has not yet been scientifically proven.

Whether neck stretches are done before or after neck strengthening exercises may not have a big effect. In general, it is good to do both stretching and strengthening exercises, so long as they do not increase pain. 2 Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012; 7(1):109-19.

  • 1 Middleditch A, Oliver J. Blood supply of the spinal cord and the vertebral column. In: Functional Anatomy of the Spine. 2nd ed. London, England: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann. 2005: 153-72.
  • 2 Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012; 7(1):109-19.

5 stretches that will relieve neck pain and tension

Young woman massaging her neck at desk

Stiff neck? The area above your shoulders is one that commonly holds tension, especially if you’re sitting at a desk all day (with sub-par posture) or constantly staring down at your phone screen.

According to research, neck pain may feel like a “kink,” stiffness or severe pain. This pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back or arms, or it may trigger headaches and cause numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms.

In general, neck pain refers to pain anywhere from the area at the base of the skull into the shoulders. And technology is one of the major culprits. “As a culture we put our necks through hell with our reliance on technology, which creates forward head carriage, and results in neck muscles that go into spasm and refer pain into our heads, temples, and even behind our eyes,” says Brad Butler, chiropractor and author of “The Blueprint for Back Pain Relief: The Essential Guide to Nonsurgical Solutions.”

“The most common causes of neck pain are either postural or positional. The modern-day life style of sitting at a desk looking over a computer for multiple hours unfortunately leads to a forward head position where the skull moves forward of its placement on the first cervical vertebra,” says Lara Heimann, physical therapist and creator of LYT Style Yoga. “Every millimeter that the skull is off-center places a strain on the posterior neck muscles. These muscles on the back of the neck have a chronic stress and load on them that creates tension and pain.

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You may not be able to get away from the computer, but there are things you can do to reduce the strain. “To alleviate this pain, one must first position the computer at eye level to prevent the forward shift of the head,” says Heimann. “Also stretching the back of the neck muscles will help alleviate the tissue tightness present.”

“There are things you can do to assist with the prevention in neck pain,” adds Karen Joubert, PT. “I would recommend a visit to your local physical therapist to address your daily routine, habits and posture. Secondly, a good program of postural awareness along with movement-based stretching will have a positive impact in your further prevention of neck pain.”

Stretching the neck muscles is one of the simplest at-home (and at-work) prevention techniques to keep tension at bay. This routine can be repeated daily to alleviate neck pain and keep your neck loose throughout the day.

Assisted neck pull

Place your hands on the base of your neck with your elbows pointed out to the sides. Stand up tall and take a deep breath, and then exhale as you drop your chin towards your chest, pulling your elbows down towards the floor. Gently allow the weight of your hands and arms to weigh your head down further, and take a few deep breaths here.

Ear drop

Interlace your fingers behind your back, resting your hands on the small of your lower back and pulling the shoulders down and back. From here, drop your right ear to your right shoulder, and hold for a few breaths. Then switch sides.

Forward fold with head nod

Hinge forward at your hips and bend towards the ground. Hold on to opposite elbows and allow your head to dangle down. Nod your head yes and then shake your head no.

The yes stretch

In an exaggerated nod, say “yes’ with your head. Lift your head up towards the ceiling and look up as high as you can, and then drop your chin down towards your chest as far as you can. Repeat this 10 times.

Neck circles

Use your chin to draw a circle to the right three times and then to the left three times.

More ways to reduce pain and injury

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  • How to work your abs without neck or back pain

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Stephanie Mansour

Stephanie Mansour is a health and fitness expert and weight-loss coach for women. She is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and Pilates instructor, and host of “Step It Up with Steph” on American Public Television.

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