11 Stretches To Relieve Neck and Shoulder Tension

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Neck and shoulder issues are extremely common today. In many cases, this is because of our largely sedentary lifestyles. 

Most of us spend tons of hours seated every day. Often, this leads to poor posture, which can cause neck and shoulder stiffness (1).

Fortunately, there are many simple stretches and exercises which can effectively release the tightness in our necks and shoulders (2). 

Let’s take a look at some of the top stretches for this body region!

Top 11 Neck and Shoulder Stretches

Top 11 Neck and Shoulder Stretches

All you’ll need for these stretches is some open floor space and a towel. 

You should aim to complete 10 reps of each stretch, holding each stretch for 10 seconds, on each side of the body, once per day (unless otherwise indicated). 

If you are suffering from very serious neck pain that doesn’t feel like a simple ache, be sure to follow up with your doctor for an evaluation.

1. Neck Extension Release

Neck Extension Release
Image // Brightside.me

This exercise provides a gentle release of the posterior neck muscles. If you have discomfort with this movement, you may consider decreasing the size of the towel or skipping this movement altogether.

How to Perform

  • Roll up a towel into a small, cylindrical shape.
  • Next, lie down on your back so that the upper part of your neck is resting on the towel. 
  • You should remain in this position for 5-10 minutes, once per day.
  • Be sure to monitor how you’re feeling while in this position. Some people can become lightheaded in this extended posture. If this happens to you, you should seek an evaluation by a medical professional.

2. Seated Chin-to-Chest Stretch

Seated Chin-to-Chest Stretch
Image // Brightside.me

By using your hands to assist with this stretch, you can increase the intensity. However, be careful not to “overstretch”. You should aim for a sensation of mild discomfort during every stretch you perform.

The seated chin-to-chest stretch is a great one that can be easily performed at the office during a short break.

How to Perform:

  • In a seated position, place both hands behind your head, clasping your fingers together.
  • Gently, pull down so that your chin moves closer toward your chest.
  • At this point, you’ll begin to feel a stretch in the back of your neck and in your upper shoulder region.
  • Once you’ve reached a point of mild discomfort, hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times per session, once per day. 

3. Neck Sidebend Stretch

Neck Sidebend Stretch

The muscles that run down either side of your neck can become very tight and painful. By loosening these structures up with regular stretching exercises, you can prevent and remedy many different types of neck pain.

How to Perform

  • In a seated position, assume a perfectly straight spinal posture.
  • Next, bend your right ear toward your right shoulder.
  • If you don’t feel a stretch in this position, place your right hand on your left temple and gently increase the pressure to take the stretch further.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times on each side, once per day. 

4. Behind Back Upper Trap Stretch

Behind Back Upper Trap Stretch
Image // Brightside.me

The trapezius muscles are large, complex structures. For many reasons, these muscles become extremely tight and cause problems for people.

This stretch will fully lengthen the upper traps so that you can release the tension in your neck and shoulders.

How to Perform:

  • Start in a seated position, with your back and neck straight.
  • Reach your left arm behind your back and grasp your left wrist with your right hand.
  • After you’ve done this, bend your right ear toward your right shoulder.
  • Maintain this position for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times on each side, once per day.

5. Levator Scapulae Release

Levator Scapulae Release
Image // Learnmuscles.com

Within the neck, there are many different muscles which are all located close to one another. The levator scapulae are one such muscle that connects the neck to the shoulder blade.

Tightness in this muscle is very common. Luckily, it’s easy to release this muscle with the following stretch.

How to Perform:

  • Start in a seated position, with your back and neck straight.
  • Next, rotate your head to the left, then bend your head down toward your left armpit.
  • If you don’t feel much of a stretch, you can use your left hand to push the stretch further.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times per side, daily. 

6. Thread the Needle

Thread the Needle
Image // Brightside.me

Yoga moves are always terrific for loosening up the neck and back. This exercise specifically targets the rhomboids and some of the other muscles in the upper back.

Be sure to pad up your knees during this movement, as it can be uncomfortable to place your knees on hard ground.

How to Perform:

  • Place your hands and knees on the ground.
  • Next, reach your left arm underneath your body toward the right side of the room.
  • Place the back of your left arm on the ground and continue to rotate toward the right side in order to increase the stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times on each side, once per day.

7. Forward and Backward Shoulder Rolls

Forward and Backward Shoulder Rolls
Image // Brightside.me

Thus far, most of the stretches we’ve listed are static moves. These stretches are performed slowly, with sustained holds. 

In contrast, the forward and backward shoulder roll exercise involves dynamic movement. This is a great stretch that can be useful for warming up or getting loose before a competition or a long workday. 

How to Perform:

  • In standing or sitting, assume a perfect posture.
  • Next, bring your shoulders backward, upward, forward, and down, in that order.
  • Complete 10 slow shoulder rolls, as described, then repeat in the other direction.
  • Repeat this whole pattern 3 times per day.

8. Crossover Shoulder Stretch

Crossover Shoulder Stretch

Much like the “thread the needle” stretch, this exercise is great for shoulder health. You’ll feel incredible relief in your mid-back after performing a few of these crossover stretches.

How to Perform:

  • Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Next, reach your right arm across your body.
  • At the same time, use your left arm to “pull” your right arm further toward the left side of your body.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds, repeat 10 times on each side, once per day.

9 Back Scratch Stretch

Back Scratch Stretch
Image // Brightside.me

This stretch will reveal any muscle imbalances you have across your back and shoulders. Once you’ve tried this stretch on both sides, determine whether it’s harder to perform this stretch on one side or the other. 

After you do, try to determine what may be restricting your motion. From here, you can continue to work on your flexibility so that your shoulder and back muscles are more balanced in terms of flexibility.

How to Perform:

  • Start standing or sitting.
  • Reach your right hand over your shoulder and down toward the middle of your back.
  • At the same time, reach your left hand behind the lower part of your back and reach upward in order to meet your hands in the middle.
  • Hold this pose for 30 seconds and repeat it 4 times on each side, once per day.

10. Anterior Shoulder Stretch on Wall

Anterior Shoulder Stretch on Wall
Image // Brightside.me

Often, office workers and those who are frequently in a seated position will experience anterior shoulder pain and stiffness. This is the perfect stretch for those individuals!

How to Perform:

  • Start standing, with your left hand on the wall.
  • Next, keep your hand on the wall, and your arm straight, as you rotate your body to the right.
  • Continue to rotate as far as you can comfortably.
  • Once you’ve reached the end of your range, hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat it 10 times on each side. Complete this stretch daily.

11. Behind Back Locked Hands Stretch

Behind Back Locked Hands Stretch
Image // Brightside.me

Just like the previous stretch, this move is awesome for loosening up the front of the shoulders. 

If you’re like some people, the first time you try this stretch, it may be hard to even bring your hands together. But keep working at it, and you’ll be there before you know it.

How to Perform

  • Stand tall and reach your hands behind your back.
  • Interlace your fingers and push your hands backward.
  • Hold this stretched position for 30 seconds and repeat it 4 times every day.

Conclusion

If you have shoulder pain, neck tightness, or other, similar issues, this stretching program is perfect for you! Try these moves out and see what you think!

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Professional online writer. Tea drinker. Committed optimist. I write about health, wellness, fitness, parenting conundrums and navigating complex relationships.

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