Whether you have neck pain simply because you slept funny, you’ve temporarily developed a sore neck or your neck hurts on a chronic basis, you’re in good company. The good news here is that stretches for neck pain are a ready solution to this common problem, says Interventional Pain Management Specialist Dr. Kaliq Chang, with Atlantic Spine Center.
Neck pain is the third most common type of pain Americans experience, with about two-thirds of people experiencing neck pain at some point in their lives, according to a survey by the National Centers for Health Statistics. While it can be acute (lasting less than 3 months) or chronic (lasting longer than 3 months), neck pain is becoming increasingly common due to more people working on computers and looking down at their smartphones, Dr. Chang says. It also can lead to headaches and upper back pain.
“We call it ‘tech neck’ or ‘text neck,’ but neck pain is definitely a problem more of our patients are complaining about these days due to posture issues related to their use of technology,” explains Dr. Chang, an interventional pain management specialist. “Research has shown that stretching the neck not only helps reduce existing neck pain, but potentially keeps it from striking in the first place. As with any body part, stretching the neck can strengthen muscles and make it more flexible.”
Try these neck stretches
A huge variety of neck stretches can ease neck pain, even extending the benefits through the front of your chest and along your shoulders. Dr. Chang recommends trying these moves to help banish your pain in the neck:
- Seated Neck Release: Sitting cross-legged on the floor or in a chair with feet flat on the ground, extend your right arm next to your right knee and place your left hand on the top of your head. Slowly tilt your head to the left, applying gentle pressure with your hand as you feel your neck stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly lift your head up. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Behind-Back Neck Stretch: Stand with feet hip-distance apart, arms by sides. Reach both hands behind your buttocks and hold your left wrist with your right hand. Use right hand to gently straighten left arm, pulling it away from you. Slowly lower right ear toward shoulder to increase the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
- Chin to Chest: While either sitting up or lying flat on your back, gently bend head forward, bringing chin toward your chest. Stop when you feel the stretch in the back of your neck and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat 4 more times. Eyes to Sky: While either sitting up or lying flat on your back, gently bend head backward. Stop when you feel the stretch at the front of your neck and hold position for 20 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat 4 more times.
- Shoulder roll: While standing, raise shoulders straight up and move them in a forward circle 6 times. Return to starting position and move them backward circle 6 times.
- Forward-Backward Tilt: While sitting or standing, lower chin toward your chest and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Slowly lift head back up. Now tilt chin up toward ceiling, bringing the back of your skull toward your upper back. Hold for 10 seconds and return to starting position. Repeat 4 more times.
When it’s time to do more
The beauty of these neck stretches is they can be done practically anywhere, anytime, Dr. Chang points out. “A long, hot shower before doing neck stretches can also help the stretches to work more effectively,” he adds.
In the event that neck stretches and other exercises seem to make your neck pain worsen, or if neck pain becomes more acute over time rather than easing, this could signal a bigger problem within the neck. Just like the lower portion of the spine, the cervical spine (neck region) includes vertebrae and spinal discs that can develop bone spurs, bulging or herniation, Dr. Chang notes. Also, neck pain can be caused by muscle problems that don’t resolve on their own.
“It’s time to see a doctor if your neck pain gets worse or doesn’t resolve within 6 weeks to 3 months,” Dr. Chang advises. “We all need our necks to function well to go about our normal, daily lives. If in doubt, get checked out.”