Neck pain can be caused by a myriad of situations including degeneration of the spine, trauma (car accident, falling), sleeping position, improper posture or simply moving incorrectly. Some neck pain can be debilitating, resulting in a loss of function in normal daily activities. Although major problems may be underlying, there are some basics stretching techniques that may help to reduce the amount of pain you feel. As always, consult your doctor before trying any of these exercises, as some exercises can be dangerous for certain injuries.
Pain relief starts with prevention. Having proper posture throughout the day can prevent injury and can also help minimize existing pain. The most common posture issue is a “forward head” posture, where the back is curved inward, shoulders are forward, and the head is hanging over the chest. Each inch that your head moves forward from the base of your neck adds 10 pounds of pressure to your neck. This causes strain, tightness and sometimes injury to the discs. The best posture position is where your head, neck, shoulders and hips are all in vertical alignment.
Check out our Desk Ergonomics blog for more posture tips.
Chin Tuck Exercise
The chin tuck, also known as a dorsal glide, is a low-impact exercise that helps reduce “forward-head” posture, and mobilize your upper cervical spine. First, retract your chin straight back as if you were pulling a string from the front of your chin through the back of your neck. Retract and hold for five seconds, then release. You can do two sets of 10 a couple times a day.
Upper Trap Stretch
To help with neck tightness, try an upper trap stretch. This stretch loosens the muscles in your upper trapezius, which extends from the base of your head/neck to your shoulder. Face forward, and slowly move your ear toward one shoulder and hold for three seconds. You should feel a stretch on the opposite side from your ear to the edge of your shoulder. After holding for three seconds, slowly bring your head up to the neutral, forward-facing position and then slowly bring down to the opposite side. Don’t force your head too far to one side or the other as to not strain your muscle. Do not twist or turn your head during this exercise. If you don’t feel a stretch by just tilting your head side to side, take the arm you are leaning toward and use it to put light pressure on the top of your head.
The scalene stretch is similar to the upper trap stretch by relieving neck tightness. This stretches the scalenus muscle group, which is located toward the middle/front of your neck. Place one hand on your collarbone, palm down. Turn your head slowly toward the shoulder opposite your hand, then slowly lift your chin straight up and look up toward the ceiling. Hold this position for 20 seconds, then return to a neutral, forward-facing position and switch sides. You should feel a stretch starting at your collarbone up toward your ear. Don’t force your head too far back. If you can’t feel the stretch, turn your head further to the side before looking up. Repeat this stretch four times on each side, twice a day.
Hot and Cold Packs
Applying heat and ice in intervals can soothe sore neck muscles and reduce inflammation in discs. Especially after an injury, apply ice in 20 minute intervals for the first 48-72 hours. After the first 72 hours, then alternate heat and ice. Apply heat before activity to loosen the muscles, and apply ice afterward to help rejuvenate muscles.
Seek a Physician
Many of these neck pain relief tips give only temporary alleviation, so you may need further treatment. There are many non-surgical procedures that can alleviate pain, especially pain related to disc or nerve injuries. Sometimes physical therapy and massage are also needed to maintain a state of comfort as well. Check out our Ways to Manage Pain page for more information.