5 Stretches To Relieve a Stiff Neck, Tight Shoulders, and Upper Back Pain

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Neck and shoulder tightness can worsen and lead to migraines if not taken care of it. With these simple stretches, you can start feeling better instantly.

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

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

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

Top 5 Neck and Shoulder Stretches

Top 5 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
Source // 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
Source // 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
Source // 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
Source // Brightside.me

Within the neck, there are many different muscles which are all located close to one another. The levator scapulae is 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.


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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