5 stretches that will relieve neck pain and tension

If you work at a computer all day, this daily stretch routine will keep tension at bay.
Young woman massaging her neck at desk
Working on a computer all day can cause muscle stiffness that can limit neck movement. Chad Springer / Getty Images/Image Source
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By Stephanie Mansour

Stiff neck? The area above your shoulders is one that commonly holds tension, especially if you're sitting at a desk all day (with sub-par posture) or constantly staring down at your phone screen.

According to research, neck pain may feel like a "kink," stiffness or severe pain. This pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back or arms, or it may trigger headaches and cause numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms.

In general, neck pain refers to pain anywhere from the area at the base of the skull into the shoulders. And technology is one of the major culprits. “As a culture we put our necks through hell with our reliance on technology, which creates forward head carriage, and results in neck muscles that go into spasm and refer pain into our heads, temples, and even behind our eyes,” says Brad Butler, chiropractor and author of “The Blueprint for Back Pain Relief: The Essential Guide to Nonsurgical Solutions.”

"The most common causes of neck pain are either postural or positional. The modern-day life style of sitting at a desk looking over a computer for multiple hours unfortunately leads to a forward head position where the skull moves forward of its placement on the first cervical vertebra," says Lara Heimann, physical therapist and creator of LYT Style Yoga. "Every millimeter that the skull is off-center places a strain on the posterior neck muscles. These muscles on the back of the neck have a chronic stress and load on them that creates tension and pain.

You may not be able to get away from the computer, but there are things you can do to reduce the strain. "To alleviate this pain, one must first position the computer at eye level to prevent the forward shift of the head," says Heimann. "Also stretching the back of the neck muscles will help alleviate the tissue tightness present."

"There are things you can do to assist with the prevention in neck pain," adds Karen Joubert, PT. "I would recommend a visit to your local physical therapist to address your daily routine, habits and posture. Secondly, a good program of postural awareness along with movement-based stretching will have a positive impact in your further prevention of neck pain."

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Stretching the neck muscles is one of the simplest at-home (and at-work) prevention techniques to keep tension at bay. This routine can be repeated daily to alleviate neck pain and keep your neck loose throughout the day.

Assisted neck pull

Place your hands on the base of your neck with your elbows pointed out to the sides. Stand up tall and take a deep breath, and then exhale as you drop your chin towards your chest, pulling your elbows down towards the floor. Gently allow the weight of your hands and arms to weigh your head down further, and take a few deep breaths here.

Ear drop

Interlace your fingers behind your back, resting your hands on the small of your lower back and pulling the shoulders down and back. From here, drop your right ear to your right shoulder, and hold for a few breaths. Then switch sides.

Forward fold with head nod

Hinge forward at your hips and bend towards the ground. Hold on to opposite elbows and allow your head to dangle down. Nod your head yes and then shake your head no.

The yes stretch

In an exaggerated nod, say "yes' with your head. Lift your head up towards the ceiling and look up as high as you can, and then drop your chin down towards your chest as far as you can. Repeat this 10 times.

Neck circles

Use your chin to draw a circle to the right three times and then to the left three times.

More ways to reduce pain and injury

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