Neck pain is a common condition that affects up to 70% of adults at some point in their lives. Approximately 10-20% of working adults are currently experiencing neck pain at any given moment.
Over 67% of these cases resolve within six months, but neck pain can become a persisting and potentially debilitating condition for many. If you have neck pain, there are several options for neck pain relief.
Many people start by trying some gentle neck pain stretches.
Read below to learn and try six different stretches depending on the type of neck pain you may be experiencing.
If any of these stretches cause more pain or “don’t feel right,” stop and schedule an appointment with one of our physical therapists at Evolve Physical Therapy.
Chin Tuck (Seated)
The chin tuck exercise is a great stretch when your neck pain is also causing headaches. When muscles at the base of your head tighten, they refer pain along the back and sides of your head, creating an unpleasant headache. Improper posture is the most common culprit for these tight muscles.
The longer we sit, gravity pulls our head, neck, and shoulders forward and down. This causes our eyes to look down towards the floor and not at the screen or person across from us. So, we lift our chin up and poke it forward so we can maintain our gaze ahead. This compensation is called “protraction.” The longer we protract our chin, the more stress and tightness builds at the base of our head and in the upper levels of our neck, eventually causing neck pain and headaches.
To perform the chin tuck, sit or stand tall with your shoulders down and relaxed.
- Gently tilt your chin downward and pull slightly back, bringing your ears over your shoulders.
- Imagine making a small nodding motion with your head when saying “yes.” You may feel a gentle stretch along the base of your head as you tuck your chin.
- Hold for 3-5 seconds before releasing.
- Repeat 5-10 times and perform frequently during your day, especially when sitting or standing in one place for greater than thirty minutes at a time.
Upper Trapezius And Levator Scapulae Muscle Stretch
These two stretches are great for pain and tightness along the side of your neck. The two common muscles that cause this type of neck pain are the upper portion of the trapezius muscle and the levator scapulae muscle.
If you find your shoulders elevating up toward ears throughout the day, these muscles are likely tight. Gentle stretching can help provide neck pain relief and get those muscles in a happier position.
To stretch the upper trapezius muscle:
- Sit tall with a proper, comfortable posture to stretch the upper trapezius muscle.
- To stretch the RIGHT upper trapezius, side bend your head to the left while simultaneously turning your head upward and to the right. Your gaze should be focused up toward the sky.
- You can gently grasp the top of your head with your left hand to deepen the stretch.
- Also, lowering your right shoulder blade by sitting on your right hand will increase the stretch’s intensity.
- Aim for creating a moderate intensity in the stretch; you should not feel more pain during or after the stretch.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds, repeating up to three times total.
- Perform a couple times per day, especially when you catch your shoulders creeping upward.
To stretch the levator scapula muscle, sit tall again with proper posture.
- To stretch the RIGHT levator scapulae muscle, side bend your head to the left while simultaneously turning your head downward and to the left. Your gaze should be focused on the ground.
- You can gently grasp the top of your head with your left hand or sit on your right hand to deepen the stretch.
- Aim again for creating a moderate-intensity stretch without worsening pain.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds, repeating up to three times total.
- Perform a couple times per day, especially when your shoulders start creeping upward.
Wall Snow Angel
This wall stretch is great to try when your neck pain is located at the junction of your neck and shoulders or radiating along the inside edge of your shoulder blade. It’s also a great corrective exercise for when you notice your shoulders rounding forward too far especially after working at a computer.
To Perform the Wall Snow Angel Exercise:
- Stand against an open wall with your shoulders and hips touching the wall.
- However, your feet don’t need to touch the wall; the stretch will intensify the closer your feet are to the wall.
- Gently perform a chin tuck (see Stretch #1) to encourage the back of your head to touch the wall if possible.
- Then bend both elbows and spread your hands apart, trying to touch the wall with the backs of your hands.
- If you achieve this step, slide both arms up the wall, keeping elbows slightly bent.
- Lift as high as you can without your hands leaving the wall or before your shoulders hike up toward your ears.
- You may feel a stretch across your chest and/or pressure between your shoulder blades.
- Hold the top position briefly before sliding your arms back down the wall.
- Repeat for 8-10 reps.
- Perform a few times per day as needed.
Backbend Over Chair
If your neck and midback are bothering you after a long day of work try this stretch! As gravity pulls our head and neck forward, our midback drifts forward too. And the longer we sit or stand in these positions, the greater the stiffness and rounding of our midback become.
The midback’s alignment plays a big role in determining how well our neck and head posture will be. This is why sometimes we can stretch our neck but not get any relief. This may happen when our midback’s forward posturing is the ultimate cause of our neck dysfunction.
- Find a chair with a low but sturdy back.
- Scoot your hips forward or back until your midback rests against the edge of the chair’s back.
- Support the back of your head with both hands, bringing elbows together.
- Gently arch your midback back and over the chair, not allowing your low back to hyper-extend.
- You can perform this stretch for 5-10 reps at a region along your midback.
- Feel free to experiment with arching along the upper third, middle third, or lower third of your midback.
Kneeling Thoracic Rotation
This stretch is great for neck pain relief and possibly low back pain relief too. Often, our lives require us to look forward, reach forward, and manipulate small items in front of us. So, our spine stiffens up in the other directions of movement that we neglect such as moving side to side and turning left and right.
This stretch will loosen up your neck, midback and low back by reminding it how to rotate which can reduce generalized stiffness from being in one position for too long.
- Kneel next to an open wall space.
- Place your foot furthest away from the wall in front (you may place a pillow or towel roll under the back knee for comfort).
- Reach out in front of you with both hands; your inside arm should touch the wall.
- Then rotate your outside arm away from the wall, allowing your body to turn too.
- See if you can touch the wall behind you with your outside hand.
- Be careful not to let your outside knee rotate farther and farther away from the wall as your arm moves.
- A helpful tip can be to imagine pinching a large yoga ball against the wall with your front knee.
Thank you for reading 6 Stretches For Neck Pain Relief.
Our physical therapists have advanced training for the neck, including hands-on (manual therapy) training for soft tissue, joint mobilization, and joint manipulation. Our training and one-on-one treatment go beyond pain relief by addressing posture, breathing, ergonomics, strength, and stability for the neck and shoulder girdle. Visit our Neck Pain page for more information.
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