Who hasn’t had neck pain at some point in their life? Neck pain is probably one of the most common chronic pain complaints of today’s world, which results mostly from the improper use of electronics (eg. improper monitor alignment, improper use of cell phones, etc) and bad posture causing muscle or ligament strain. The pain can be greatly reduced or even alleviated by performing some simple neck exercises and stretches. The list below will guide you through these neck exercises as well as stretches that help in reducing neck discomfort and pain.
Various Causes of Neck Pain:
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
Exercises to reduce neck pain:
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 few times ( 5 to 7 repetitions) helps.
Chin Tuck Exercise:
If you spend a lot of your time in front of the screen (for those computer savvy people), you need to learn how to do Chin tuck exercises. If you have a forward head posture or poor neck posture, Chin tuck exercise can be a helpful exercise for you. You can perform this exercise in sitting or in a standing position as shown in the picture below.
How to perform Chin Tuck exercise: 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 🙂
There are few different exercises for shoulder girdle but this one is very basic. The reason I like to include this exercise as neck regime is to relax the shoulder girdle. When you are moving and stretching the neck muscles in all directions, a lot of the time shoulder girdles gets used and becomes stressed. This small exercise will help calm and relax the shoulder girdle.
This exercise can be done in sitting or standing. In a relaxed position, shrug your shoulders as if you are trying to lift them towards ears. Slowly and gradually bring them down to starting position. Repeat the movement 10 times
SCM (sternocleidomastoid muscle) 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 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 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 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:
Stretching back of the neck is very easy to perform. 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.
How to stretch back of neck: Sitting in a relaxed position, knees hip-width apart and shoulders relaxed. Bend your neck forward as if you are trying to touch the chin to chest.
You can hold the position 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 (trapezius) stretch:
Trapezius stretch is another easy stretch to perform. You may have done it several times to relieve occasional neck pain or just to feel better without even realizing that you are stretching upper fibers of trapezius muscles.
How to perform upper trapezius stretch: you can perform this stretch while sitting or standing in a relaxed position. Bring ear to the opposite side shoulder from the side you want to feel stretch on. In other words, to stretch the left side, 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.
The neck pain exercises below can be a little tricky to perform by yourself. If you have questions, please contact your healthcare professional or ask questions in the comments section below to avoid neck injury. If done correctly, these exercises can help reduce neck pain and also help gain muscle strength. They are also useful in neutralizing muscle imbalance and therefore help correct posture.
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. You are going to attempt to perform the neck movements (bending up, down and in sideways) against resistance without a 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 one side of the forehead. Now, try to touch the ear to the same shoulder and at 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 till 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 concept for the other movements as shown in the picture above. The key point is to not push too hard and not hold your breath.
Repeat the exercises in all directions for 10 times once a day.
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 dealing with neck pain. The order of the exercises and stretches do not necessarily need to be followed in this manner. You can choose to perform exercises and stretches in any order. Just make sure you are not performing the exercises/stretches very vigorously. Also, remember that you should not be in pain while performing the exercises.