Neck stretches for neck pain and stiffness

It can be helpful to have some stretches on hand to do at home if you are experiencing neck pain. However, if your pain is severe or long lasting or you suspect that you may have an underlying condition, seek medical care as soon as possible.Neck pain and stiffness are common and can happen due to arthritis, disc degeneration, muscle inflammation, strain, or injury. Many people experience neck pain or a stiff neck. Sometimes, just sleeping in the wrong position can cause neck pain.

This article discusses some different neck stretches that you can do to relieve neck pain. It also looks at when to seek medical attention.

a woman is stretching her neck by a river
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Stretching the neck can help minimize pain and discomfort and improve the range of motion in your neck. Most stretches are safe for people without a history of head or neck problems and should not cause any further pain.

Some examples of neck stretches that you can do at home include the following.

Neck retraction

  1. Start by sitting or standing while looking straight ahead.
  2. Keeping your chin slightly tucked down, move your head straight back as far as you can without feeling any strain or pain.
  3. Stay in this position for 3–5 seconds, then return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 10–15 times.

Neck rotation

  1. Start by sitting or standing while looking straight ahead.
  2. Keeping your chin slightly tucked down, move your head straight back as far as you can without feeling any strain or pain.
  3. Turn your head gently to the right and then to the left without straining your neck or pushing to the point of pain.
  4. Hold for 2–3 seconds on one side before moving your head to the opposite side.
  5. Repeat 10 times in each direction twice per day.

Neck stretch

  1. Start by sitting or standing while looking straight ahead, lightly holding on to your thighs or the chair.
  2. Tilt your head toward one shoulder and hold for 5 seconds, letting the weight of your head stretch your neck muscles.
  3. For an added stretch, use your hand to gently pull your head toward your shoulder.
  4. Repeat two to four times with each shoulder.

Downward neck tilt

  1. Start by sitting down or standing, making sure to keep your back straight.
  2. Gently tilt your head downward, resting your chin on your chest.
  3. Slightly tense your neck muscles. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Repeat this sequence five times.

Neck strengthening

  1. Start by sitting or standing with your head in a neutral position.
  2. Using gentle pressure from your hands to create resistance, move your head forward, backward, and side to side. For each movement, you should be slightly pushing against your hands with your neck muscles.
  3. Hold each position for 6 seconds.
  4. Repeat eight to 12 times in each position.

What to avoid

If you are experiencing neck pain, it is best to avoid certain postures that can exacerbate neck pain or lead to the overuse of the neck muscles. Poor posture during activity or even just sitting at a desk for too long can be the cause of neck pain.

Keeping the chin forward with the shoulders slouched, instead of tucking the chin back into a neutral head position, can cause tension on the neck muscles, sometimes even causing headaches.

During other maneuvers, such as lifting a heavy object, try not to reach too far to pick up the object. Instead, stay close and use your leg muscles to help lift the object.

When carrying a heavy bag, try to use both shoulders to prevent strain on either side of the neck.

When turning your head from side to side, try not to overextend your neck, as this will put a strain on the neck muscles.

It is important to keep performing neck stretches and exercises even after the pain goes away. This can prevent the pain from coming back.

Preventing neck pain

Whether you have an active lifestyle or sit for long periods of time working at a desk, there are steps you can take to help prevent neck pain. Paying attention to your posture and body alignment is especially important.

Some other tips include:

  • sitting up straight with your feet flat on the floor, shoulders back, and chin tucked in while sitting at a desk
  • taking frequent breaks to get up and walk around if you are sitting or driving for a while
  • trying relaxation techniques if you are stressed and your neck starts to stiffen
  • avoiding sleeping on your front with your head tilted to one side
  • if you are sleeping on your side, making sure that your head is in line with your body
  • using only enough pillows to keep your head level with the rest of your body
  • sleeping on a firm mattress so that your neck does not bend

Treatment for neck pain

There are various treatments that you can try at home in addition to stretching that can help relieve neck pain. However, you should contact a doctor if the pain worsens or does not go away.

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