5 Stretching Exercises That Can Relieve Neck Pain

poor posture leads to neck pain

When your job involves sitting at a desk all day, you tend to pay the pay the price with a sore neck and stiff shoulders. If you have poor posture and your head rests too far forward, it may lead to chronic or recurrent neck pain that can also be accompanied by stiff joints, upper back pain, shoulder blade pain, and headaches.

Fortunately, getting your neck back in shape is not too difficult. Flexibility and stretching exercises can expand or preserve the range of motion and elasticity in affected neck joints, helping you relieve the stiffness and pain. Here are 5 exercises you can do to strengthen your neck muscles.

1. Corner Stretch

for stretching the chest and shoulder muscles

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.

How to do the stretch:

  • 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.

2. Levator Scapula Stretch

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.

How to do the stretch:

  • Lengthen the muscle by raising the elbow above the shoulder at the side to stretch.
  • In this position, start by resting 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.
  • Place the fingers of the other hand on the top of the head and gently pull the head forward increasing the stretch slightly.
  • Hold this for about 30 seconds to a minute.

The levator scapulae stretch can be repeated multiple times during the day.

3. Chin Tuck

One of the most effective postural exercises for combating neck pain is the chin tuck exercise. This exercise helps strengthen the muscles that pull the head back into alignment over the shoulders (upper thoracic extensors) and also stretches the scalene and suboccipital muscles.

How to do the stretch:

  • Stand with the spine up against a door jamb and the feet out about 3 inches from the bottom of the door jamb.
  • Keeping the spine against the door jamb, pull the upper back and head backward until the head touches the door jamb. It is important to make sure that the chin is down so that the head is pulled straight back and not looking up.
  • Hold the head against the door jamb for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat this 10 times.

Chin tucks can be done 5 to 7 times throughout the day.

4. Prone Cobra

The prone cobra is a more advanced exercise that strengthens the muscles of the shoulder girdle as well as the neck and upper back. This exercise is done lying on the floor face down and uses gravity as resistance in the strengthening process.

How to do the stretch:

  • Lying face down, place the forehead on a rolled-up hand towel for comfort.
  • Place the arms at the side, palms down on the floor.
  • Place the tongue on the roof of the mouth. This helps stabilize the muscles in the front of the neck to assist in strengthening.
  • Pinch the shoulder blades together and lift the hands off the floor.
  • Roll the elbows in, palms out and thumbs up.
  • Gently lift the forehead about an inch off the towel, keeping the eyes looking straight at the floor.
  • Hold the position for 10 seconds. Perform 10 repetitions.

If you find it hard to hold the position for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times, do the stretch as many times as possible without causing pain.

5. Back Burn

helps open up tight chest muscles)

Another important postural exercise is the back burn exercise. This exercise is done standing with the back against a large flat wall and the feet about 4 inches out from the bottom of the wall.

How to do the stretch:

  • Assume the same position as the chin tuck exercise with the back of the head against the wall.
  • Try to flatten the lower back against the wall.
  • Place the elbows, forearms, and the backs of the hands and fingers on the wall with wrists about shoulder height.
  • Keeping the arms, hands, head, and fingers all touching the wall as much as possible, slowly slide the hands up above the head and slowly back down.
  • Repeat this 10 times, 3 to 5 times per day.

In addition to strengthening back muscles, the back burn also helps open up tight chest muscles.