7 Ways to Relax Your Neck Muscles

Charlie Thompson

Interventional Orthopedics of Washington

One in three people live with persistent neck pain, while your risk of developing neck pain only increases as you age. Not only this but as humans, we carry around a rather hefty weight on our necks every day–our heads.

The head accounts for almost 10 percent of your overall body weight. While the purpose of the spine and the neck is to carry the weight of our heads, it’s easy to see how you could develop neck pain if things were a little off-kilter.

If you struggle with tense neck muscles and nagging tension, here are a few tactics to help you relieve some pain.

1. Seated Neck Bend

So, why is neck tension so common anyway? For many of us, poor posture is the antagonist. Whether you’re sitting at a desk all day, hunching over your phone as you scroll or type, or working a job lifting heavy things, the neck tends to take the brunt of the day-to-day strain.

You can learn more about common causes of neck pain from the Interventional Orthopedics of Washington. Performing this stretch throughout the day could help with your neck pain management:

  • In a seated position with your feet planted on the floor, put your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers
  • Make sure your palms are touching and your knuckles face outwards
  • Tilt your head over your shoulder, and as you do so, stretch your arms in the opposite direction towards your hip
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side

You should feel a good stretch along the side of your neck and across your shoulder. The purpose of this stretch is to ease tension in the upper trapezius muscles that support the side of the neck.

2. Owl Neck Stretch

  • Take a seated position, making sure your spine is straight and upright so that the chest is open
  • Relax your shoulders and center your neck
  • Turn your head to the right shoulder until your chin is parallel to the floor. Then, dip your chin down towards your shoulder
  • Use your right hand to gently hold your head down for an added stretch across the back of the neck
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds then repeat on the other side

This stretch is great for relieving tension in the muscles that connect your sternum to your collarbone right up to behind your ear.

3. Seated Mountain Pose

  • Sitting upright with a straight spine, open chest, and relaxed shoulders, interlace your fingers with your palms facing outwards
  • Raise your arms above your head so that your palms now face the ceiling. Try to keep your neck in a neutral position as you do so
  • Press through your palms and stretch your spine as you lengthen your neck and spine
  • Extend in this position for 10 seconds, taking long deep breaths
  • For an added stretch, lean over to one side and feel a deep stretch along the side of your back, lengthening the latissimus dorsi muscle
  • Repeat on the other side

This is a brilliant stretch for relieving tension in the shoulders, upper back, and lats.

4. Eagle-Arms Pose

  • Stand in a neutral position with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Reach out your arms to the side, then cross them over one another on your chest, i.e. place your left elbow over your right elbow
  • Now, straighten your arms out in front of you so that your palms face the ceiling
  • If you’re flexible enough, wrap your wrists so that your palms touch
  • Then, lift your elbow and ensure your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Tuck in your chin towards your chest and you should feel a deep stretch in the upper back and neck
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, taking deep steady breaths

The eagle-arms pose might feel a little awkward to do, but it’s a great stretch for the back of the shoulders, known as the deltoids, and the neck.

5. The Shoulder-Opener

  • Lay down on your stomach, stretching your legs out straight
  • Bring your arms up, stretched out at shoulder height beside you, palms facing the floor
  • Turn your head to the right, resting on your left ear
  • Then, lift up your right leg, swing it over behind you towards your left hip, rotating your torso
  • Let your leg dangle in this position for 30 seconds as you twist and stretch your torso. If you can, place your dangling foot (or toes) on the floor for an even deeper stretch
  • Don’t forget to switch sides

Again, this might feel like a strange position. But it’s a brilliant stretch for the shoulders and chest, which can ultimately help to relieve tension in the neck as all of these body parts connect and refer tension to one another.

6. Foam Roller Stretch

If you own a foam roller, this is a great stretch for the upper back and neck:

  • Simply lay down on the floor on your back, knees bent at 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor
  • Place the foam roller at your upper back near the shoulder blades
  • Slowly roll your shoulders over the foam roller, letting your head lead the way and dangle towards the floor
  • Let gravity do its thing as your head gently rests on the floor and you feel a good stretch in the upper back and neck
  • Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, then repeat twice more

If you have tension in the upper back that refers up to your neck, this foam roller stretch can do wonders for relieving pain.

7. Focus on Your Posture

Sure, these stretches help to relieve pain and tension in the shoulders, neck, and upper back. But even if you do them on a consistent basis, it means nothing if you don’t focus on your posture.

On a day-to-day basis, it’s important to think about how you’re sitting — whether you’re at work, at home, on the bus, driving your car, etc. One of the best ways to keep neck pain at bay is to avoid creating tension in the first place.

Focus on maintaining a neutral spine. Roll your shoulder blades down your back and slightly tuck in your chin for a better neck posture — especially if you’re a desk worker. Try to remind yourself of your posture throughout the day and straighten up your spine and neck each time you think about it. These little adjustments can make a big difference

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