The neck position is crucial to achieve a proper posture. It’s been said that the “first impression is the last impression”. I know it may not be true 100% but your first impression plays a vital role in several things. The way you carry yourself carries around 70 % to 80% of weight in that first impression. So, I want to dedicate a series of articles on postural correction exercises. I am going to talk about upper body posture and exercises for neck, chest and upper back in this series.
Neck stretches and exercises are important to reduce neck pain, tightness and to improve posture. In this era of computers and phones, many of us are constantly in front of a screen, which creates either forward head posture or computer neck. I want to dedicate this article to all the computer savvy readers whose neck is working overtime all the time (with no bonus)!!
Causes of Neck Pain:
As I just mentioned, constantly being in front of a screen is a huge culprit of having neck problems. Using a screen can consist of anything from watching TV, using computers, laptops or cell phones, and includes video games for kids. Following are a few other pathologies that can create some cervical or neck injuries.
- Neck muscle or ligament strain
- Cervical disc bulging out
- Cervical nerve impingement (mainly in C5-C6 or C6 – C7)
- Improper posture
- Spending too much time in front of a screen
- Whiplash Injury
- Arthritic changes in the cervical region
- Cervical Torticollis
- Congenital Torticollis
Below are some general exercises that you can do at home. These exercises can help improve poor posture, gain muscle strength, and relieve some tightness. As always, exercises should be done slowly and in a pain-free range.
Moving neck in all direction:
Few movements available in the neck are flexion (looking down), extension (looking up), side flexion (touching ear to shoulder), rotation (looking over shoulder), moving in clockwise and anticlockwise (moving neck in a circle both direction). The picture below demonstrates these movements. If you have pain or discomfort in the neck due to posture or just needs to loosen neck muscles up, performing these movements a few times ( 5 to 7 repetitions) helps.
Neck stretch – Chin Tuck Exercise:
This is one of my favorite exercises. This works great if you spend a lot of your time in front of a screen (for those computer savvy people). Also, if you have a forward head posture or poor neck posture, this can be a helpful exercise for you. You can perform this exercise in sitting or in standing as shown in the picture.
Position: Keep your neck in a relaxed position. Try to tuck your chin to your sternum or neck area without holding your breath. You should feel a slight pull around the upper neck. Hold the position for 3 to 5 seconds, and gently bring your neck to a normal/ starting position. You can perform this for 10 to 12 times a day.
If you spend a few hours a day in front of a computer, you can do this exercise every couple of hours. It helps to reduce the stress in the neck area. This exercise is also very relaxing. You need to try it to feel it 🙂
Neck stretch – Self Isometric Exercises:
This can be a little tricky to perform by yourself. So please make sure you are comfortable doing it. If you have questions, please contact your healthcare professionals or comment in the section. If done correctly, it can help to reduce pain and gain muscle strength. It is also useful to neutralize muscle imbalance and therefore correct the posture. Here is how to perform this exercise.
This exercise can be done either in a sitting or standing position. Both feet touching the floor, knees are hip-width apart. Shoulders are in a relaxed position. Here, you are going to attempt to perform the neck movements (bending up, down and in sideways) against resistance, but there is no visible movement happening at the neck. In other words, you are trying to perform the movement but you are actually not performing it. I hope this makes sense.
For example, rest the palm of your hand on the same side of the forehead. Now try to touch the ear to the same shoulder and the same time push with the hand against the neck (as if you are trying to stop the movement). You should feel little pressure on the side of the neck. You can hold it to three seconds and slowly release. Please make sure you are not pushing with your hand too hard that it starts actually hurting you. You can repeat the same for other movements as shown in pictures. The key point is to not push too hard and not hold your breath.
Repeat the exercises in all direction 10 times once a day.
Neck exercise – Shoulder Shrugging:
This is a very simple exercise and it is for shoulders. The reason I like to include this exercise as neck regime is to relax the shoulder girdle. There are a few different exercises for shoulder girdle but this one is very basic. When you are moving and stretching the neck muscles in all direction, a lot of the time shoulder girdles gets used and becomes stressful. Also with bad posture, we are working these muscles work overtime. So I like to add this small exercise to calm and relax the shoulder girdle.
This can be done by either sitting or standing. In a relaxed position, shrug your shoulders as if you are trying to lift it towards ears. Slowly and gradually bring it down to starting position. Repeat it 10 times
Now it’s time to stretch those muscles. You can choose to just do stretching and skip the exercise part. If you are healthy otherwise, and just need to correct the posture, I will start with stretching and then perform exercises.
I like this figure a lot as it gives me some visual feedback on different neck muscles. This helps to know where exactly I should feel stretch. This also benefits to know about different muscles, its position, and its work. Please take a few seconds to note where is our sternocleidomastoid, and trapezius muscles are. As we are going to talk about that stretch in the next section.
The main stretches for the neck are SCM stretch (Sternocleidomastoid – SCM) stretch, upper trap stretch, and front and back of neck stretch. Few other stretches that you can do are Chest and shoulder girdle stretches. I will include those stretches in my next article.
SCM stretch/Side stretch:
Position: Sitting comfortably in a chair, feet resting on the ground, knees hip-width apart. The easiest way to remember this stretch is opposite side flexion and same side rotation to feel the SCM stretch. So in other words, let’s say you want to stretch left side SCM muscle. You bring right ear to the right shoulder and try to look down at the ceiling towards the right side. You will feel stretch on the left side of the neck.
A slight variation you can do with this stretch is looking up on the side you feel the stretch at. For example, for left side neck stretch, right ear to the right shoulder, and look up towards the left ceiling. This small change in rotation uses different fibers of muscles, Thus, stretching different area of the neck. Again, you need to try it to see where and how you feel with the stretching.
You can repeat on the opposite side. I like to hold the stretch for 15 to 20 second gently and repeat it to 3 times a day.
Back of Neck Stretch:
This is very simple. But it can feel great if you are holding a lot of tension/ stress at the back of the neck area. I like to do this stretch after a long day at work or after many hours in front of a computer. It increases blood supply to the brain as well. So you get double benefit out of this exercise.
Position: In sitting, relaxed position, knees hip-width apart and shoulder relaxed. Bend your neck forward as you are trying to touch the chin to chest.
You can hold here if you are already feeling stretch. To go little deep in the stretch, you can push your head down with your hands.
Hold for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat it to two to three times.
Upper trap stretch:
This is the easiest stretch. You may have done it several times just to feel better without even realizing that you are stretching upper fibers of trapezius muscles.
Position: you can perform this stretch in sitting or in standing in a relaxed position. Bring opposite side ear to opposite side shoulder of the side you want to feel stretch. In other words, for left side stretching, right ear tries to touch the right shoulder. You will feel a gentle stretch on the left side as shown in the picture below.
You can hold this for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat it three times.
After stretching all the neck muscles, you may want to move both shoulders in clockwise and anticlockwise to loosen up.
These are the main exercises and stretches for the neck. Correct neck posture is very important for many reasons along with it helps to look and feel good. I hope these exercises and stretches are useful and helpful to all of you. In addition, the order of the exercises and stretches does not necessarily need to be followed in this manner. You can choose to perform exercises and stretches in any order. Make sure you are not doing it very vigorously. Also, you should not be in pain while performing the exercises That is not the point.