Pretty much everyone deals with neck pain at some point in their life. Whether it’s from sleeping in an awkward position, getting into an accident or spending too much time hunched over a computer, neck pain is quite common, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with. While it’s important to rest a stiff, painful neck, keeping your neck moving with stretches is key to avoiding further stiffening or muscle deconditioning. Take a look at the best neck stretches to relieve pain and improve mobility.
6 Common Causes of Neck Pain
1. Physical/muscle strains, often from overuse (too many hours hunched over a computer or smartphone), or sleeping in an awkward position
2. Poor posture, weak abdominal muscles and heavier body weight
3. Mental stress, causing your neck muscles to tighten
4. Aging and degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis
5. Nerve compression from herniated discs or bone spurs in the vertebrae of the neck
6. Injuries and trauma, such as whiplash during a car accident
When to See a Doctor
Seek immediate medical attention if severe neck pain results from an injury such as a fall or car accident. You should also see a doctor if your neck pain is severe and persists for several days without relief; spreads down your arms and legs; or comes with a headache, numbness, weakness or tingling. You should also contact your doctor if you can’t do normal daily activities after 1 or 2 days of pain onset. And if you still have mild to moderate pain after 2 weeks of home treatment, talk to a medical professional.
5 Things that Make Neck Pain Worse
1. Poor posture
2. Staying in the same position for too long
3. Sleeping on a bed or pillows that are too hard or too soft
4. Using a chair with poor support
5. High intensity exercise that strains your neck
8 Neck Stretches to Relieve Pain
1. Seated Neck Stretch
This stretch targets your trapezius and upper back muscles for neck pain relief. Sit comfortably on a chair or on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Your head should be stacked above your ribs, and your ribs above your pelvis. Clasp your hands and bring both hands to the back of your head. Gently press your hands down, tucking your head into your chest. Hold for 30 seconds.
2. Bridge Stretch
The bridge stretch helps improve the mobility of your middle back and can help alleviate discomfort in your neck. Lay on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. With your palms and feet pressing into the ground, lift your hips off the floor and engage your core. Clasp your hands together beneath your pelvis with your arms extended and hold for 2 deep breaths in and 2 deep breaths out. Repeat 5 times.
3. Seated Upper- and Mid-Back Stretch
Stretching your middle back can help relieve tension and pain in the neck. Sit in a chair with your feet planted firmly on the ground. Bend forward and grab the front chair legs crossing your arms. Slowly tuck your chin and round your back until you feel a stretch in your mid to upper back. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
4. Thread the Needle Stretch
The thread the needle stretch opens up the chest and shoulders and releases tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back. It also helps improve the mobility of your middle back. Start on all fours with your shoulders over your hands and hips over your knees. Reach your right arm underneath and across your body with your palm facing up. Bend your left elbow and gently lean into your right side. Hold the bottom stretch for a deep breath in and out, then return to the starting position and repeat for 30 seconds. Then switch to the other side.
5. Levator Scapulae Stretch
This stretch is a must if you’re dealing with neck pain, stiffness or aches as the levator scapulae muscle originates from the neck and inserts into the shoulder blade. Stand or sit tall in a chair and turn your chin 45 degrees to the left. Bend your neck downward (you can use your left hand for a greater stretch). Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side.
6. Upper Trapezius Stretch
As the name suggests, the stretch hits your upper trapezius and will help loosen and open up your upper back and neck. Start standing or sitting in an upright position. Place one hand on your lower back and the other hand on the opposite side of your head. Looking straight ahead, pull your head toward your shoulder until you feel a stretch in your neck. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
7. Nose Across Ceiling Stretch
This stretch targets your front and side neck muscles. Gently tip your head back with your nose pointing up to the ceiling, as far as feels comfortable and safe. You should feel the stretch in the front of your neck. Picture a half circle going from the outside of one shoulder, up across the ceiling and down to the other shoulder. Trace your nose along that path the best you can. Repeat 10 times, alternating sides.
8. Wall Angels
This stretch can relieve neck tension and pain, working on your neck indirectly. It compresses and decompresses your upper and mid-spine, creating space and laxity in the vertebral joints that extend through your neck. Stand with your back against a wall and step forward, bending your knees slightly and keeping your knees shoulder-width apart.
Raise your arms out to the side, making a ‘T’ shape. Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle (it should look like a football goal post), then lift your arms above your head until the fingertips of your left and right hand touch. Keep your back and elbows against the wall at all times. Bring your arms back to the goal post position. Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps.
If you’re dealing with neck pain, try these stretches to get some much needed relief!
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