It only takes a couple of minutes a day to prevent neck pain for good.
Your neck never gets a day off. It’s there 24/7, doing the all-important job of holding your head up. And our technology-focused ways haven’t made that job any easier.
It’s not uncommon for people to spend a big chunk of time with their head and shoulders slumped forward, staring at a computer or smartphone screen, says Jake Bleacher, P.T., a physical therapist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
This creates constant tension in the muscles in the back of the neck and upper back, he says. Over time, that tension can lead to painful changes like degenerative disc disease, where your spinal discs actually start to break down, as well as headaches, pinched nerves, and even shoulder pain.
So that’s the bad news. The good news: A simple stretching routine may be all you need to relieve or prevent neck pain.
“Stretching the neck really helps decrease those areas of tension that cause the headaches and stiffness in the joints,” Bleacher says.
In fact, a 2015 study published in Clinical Rehabilitation found that when office workers with chronic neck and shoulder pain performed a simple stretching routine for four weeks, they experienced significant improvements in neck function and quality of life.
Try these simple stretches from Bleacher to prevent neck pain from happening in the first place or to ease the tension if you’re feeling pain.
4 Neck Stretches to Do Every Day
For the best results, Bleacher recommends performing these stretches at least once per day. The key is to try to relax as you do them, he says. If you tense up—which a lot of people do—you won’t be able to hold the position comfortably, which limits the effectiveness of the stretch.
If at any point you feel numbness or weakness in your hands or arms or you feel dizzy, stop the stretch immediately, and mention it to your doctor. “It’s usually not emergent, but it’s not something you can probably figure out on your own,” Bleacher says. Your doctor can help pinpoint the cause of your symptoms and advise accordingly.
Stretch #1: Neck Retraction
While sitting tall in a chair (or standing), place two fingers on your chin. Use your fingers to gently push your head straight back so you feel engagement in the front of your neck and a stretch in the back. Hold for three to four seconds and release. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps total.
Stretch #2: Seated Cervical Rotation
While sitting tall in a chair (or standing), place your right fingers on the right side of your chin. Gently push your head to your left shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat in the opposite direction to complete one rep. Do 10 controlled reps.
Remember to relax as much as possible during this movement. The less tension there is in your neck and shoulders, the more effective the stretch will be, Bleacher says.
Stretch #3: Shoulder Squeeze
“When you spend a lot of time with your head forward, your shoulders hunch forward as well, which can cause tightness in the chest,” Bleacher says. In addition to performing regular neck stretches, like the two above, opening up the chest muscles can help offset some of the tension.
A simple way to do it: Stand tall and pinch your shoulder blades together, allowing your chest to open up. Hold for three to four seconds and release. That’s one rep. Repeat for 10 reps total.
Stretch #4: Shoulder Roll
Shoulder tightness can also lead to neck pain—and vice versa, Bleacher says. So stretching your shoulders and the muscles in between your shoulder blades, known as scapula, can help counteract that tension.
To do shoulder rolls, stand tall and slowly make circles with your shoulders. Be very deliberate about hitting every part of the circle. Complete 10 reps, and then reverse the direction for another 10 reps.
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