The human head can weigh as much as 10 lb. (4.5 kg) and your neck has to support that weight. Your neck also controls the movement of your head through rotation, flexing forward and side-to-side, and tilting the head back.
Whether you sit at a desk all day, work for hours at a computer, and have experienced a past neck injury, you can benefit from neck stretches. These are designed to restore flexibility to the joints and muscles of the neck.
People also tend to hold stress in their neck and shoulder muscles which can lead to pain and stiffness. Stretching your neck can relieve the tension associated with stress and the stiffness associated with overuse and injury.
If you are injured, you should discuss the suitability of these neck stretches with your chiropractor prior to beginning them. Generally, they should be performed 3 times daily provided they do not cause or increase pain.
Roll your shoulders round and round from front to back and then the other way. We like to reinforce the front to back movement because this is the opposite of slouching or slumping at the desk or computer. These are never jerky movements rather slow and steady.
You can do these every half hour in the office at your desk and when you’re walking around as well. The more you do them, your brain will relearn where to hold your arms and shoulder blades. Time to relearn good posture – now you can learn it again!
The chin tuck exercise is such a simple movement anyone can do. It is one of the best exercises to help correct poor posture, such as a rounded back and forward head position common amongst students and office workers.
Begin sitting or standing tall with your back and neck straight, shoulders should be back slightly. Think of lifting the crown of your head to the ceiling.
Tuck your chin in until you feel a mild to moderate stretch pain-free. Be careful not to tip the head back. Your chin should be parallel to the floor. Keep your eyes and nose facing forwards. Hold for 2 seconds then relax the chin back forward to a neutral position. Repeat the process 10 times. Use this exercise throughout the day to maintain good posture.
Neck Flexion and Extension
Slowly begin to lower you neck down by lower your chin down to your check and hold for 10-15 seconds. The chin to chest stretch can be helped by placing your flat hand over the back of the head and gently pressing forward.
I caution against neck extension as some people who flex their heads forward all day hurt themselves when leaning their head backwards. Not unlike injuring your neck having your hair washed a the hairdresser or pinching a nerve in the neck when shaving under your chin.
However, the neck should be able to easily move in all directions and this stretch is a useful way to ensure you keep it moving. Just be aware that office and computer users who flex their neck all day can get a surprise or shock when they try easing the neck back. Don’t say you weren’t warned!
Shoulder Blade Squeezes
This shoulder blade squeeze exercise is good for your shoulder joint and scapula. You can do this exercise in a standing or seated position. Begin sitting or standing tall on a stool, the edge of a chair, or on the edge of your bed with your back straight.
You need enough space behind you to rest your hands and rotate your elbows. Sit up straight, keeping your spine and neck in a straight line.
Begin by putting your hands together behind your back. Keep your shoulders and arms relaxed. Look straight ahead.
Keeping your hands together, pull both shoulders down and back while rotating your elbows inward. You should be able to feel your shoulder blades moving towards your spine. Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds, to get a stretch. Your chest will widen out in front.
A variation is to bend your arms, raise them to your sides at shoulder height, keep your shoulders down then squeeze your scapulae together. Slowly open your arms behind you and hold for two or three counts.
Repeat this exercise 5 to 7 times. If you can’t move both shoulders and arms symmetrically yet, don’t worry – just do what you can. Try increase your stretching time as you feel able, to get your shoulder blades moving again.
Sitting Neck Rotations
Keep your neck straight and don’t allow your head to poke forwards during the movement. Repeat 10 times to each side.
Sitting Side Bends
Begin sitting tall with your back and neck straight, your shoulders should be back slightly. Gently bend your neck to one side until you feel a mild to moderate stretch pain-free (figure 5). Make sure your neck does not bend forwards during the movement. Repeat 10 times on each side.
What Should You Not Do?
The stiffer the neck you have and the more slumped your posture, the more likely it is that neck side bends and neck extension may hurt you. When you use your hands to try to stretch the neck, the forces are increased and we have seen too many people hurting the necks yanking on them – go easy!
This video by a US chiropractor points out that stretching the neck flexors is useful and not to pull on your own neck.
Stretching the Neck and Shoulders
Be cautioned using any exercise where you pull your neck.
This means using yourself as the resistance instead of weights. It requires pushing against your hands, not pulling your neck around – much safer.
This is a version of the shoulder blade squeeze with its many variations.
Stretching the Trapezius Dynamically