Facebook

Oh, what a pain in the neck! It seems more and more people are complaining about stiffness in the neck. What’s surprising is that isn’t just aging, inactive people who get a stiff neck—people who might dismiss the pain as a normal effect of aging.

No, I see patients of all ages who come to the office complaining of neck pain, shoulder pain, stiffness, and headaches. Two major factors contribute to the increase in these symptoms.

 

Our Lifestyle Is Causing Pain and Stiffness in the Neck

We all have different “lifestyles,” so this may seem like a sweeping proclamation. What I mean is the demands of modern-day require many of us to drive in traffic, sit at a desk for 8-10 hours a day, sit on the commute home. Sit at dinner. Sit at the kids’ games. Sit. Sit. Sit.

This amount of sitting isn’t good for us, but the damage is heightened when we add poor ergonomics at our workstation, such as a poor-quality chair, a poorly positioned computer screen, and an incorrect distance between the screen and the eye. The strain of stretching our neck forward to see the screen causes neck pain. Leaning on the hand rest of the chair raises the elbow to an unnatural position, and this can also cause pain and stiffness in the neck.

Even the use of the phone at work can cause incredible neck pain. Without a headset, it’s natural to squeeze the phone between the ear and the shoulder. This can hyperextend the muscles on the outside of the neck and contract them on the other. Not to mention all the strain that is put on the shoulder muscles. The result? Stiff muscles that develop into chronic neck pain. 

 

Our Devotion to Our Devices Is Causing Pain and Stiffness in the Neck

Another villain in our neck pain saga is our devices. Phones, tablets, and often even our laptops place enormous stress on the muscles in our neck. After looking forward for hours upon hours a week, it’s only natural that discomfort develops into a constant ache. Before too long, we can’t even tell if we have neck pain, back pain, or eye strain!

Our neck is designed to bear the weight of our head: 10-12 pounds. However, when we bend our neck forward to look at our devices, we can increase that weight to almost 60# of pressure on the neck! Talk about neck pain!

 

How To Reduce Stiffness in the Neck and Treat Neck Pain

I’d like to hope that we would incorporate some basic health maintenance disciplines in our life, such as a balanced diet, exercise, regular chiropractic visits, mobility movements and short breaks at work. But, realistically, until people are immobilized by their symptoms and pain, most of them opt to bully through with little regard to preventative care.

With that in mind, there are at-home exercises to manage the discomfort of neck pain and muscle stiffness. Below, I’ve included seven, some of which can be done while seated or standing near your desk.

 

Sitting Stretches That Help Reduce Neck Pain & Stiffness

Angular Stretch

This stretch should relieve the stiffness in the muscles that run along the outside of your neck.

  1. Sit in an armless chair facing forward. Chest and shoulders are straight. Both feet are firmly on the ground.
  2. Hook your right arm under the seat of the chair to act as an anchor point for the stretch.
  3. Drop your chin slightly toward your chest. Don’t force anything, which could aggravate neck pain.
  4. Turn your head a few degrees to the left shoulder. Your head should be slightly bent and facing a 45-degree You are not looking to your left, which would be “9 o’clock.” Your focus is at “10 o’clock,” midway between looking forward and looking to the left.
  5. Gently lower your chin.
  6. Hold for a count of three. Repeat 3-5 depending on your level of neck pain. Repeat on the other side.

Over the Head Stretch

This stretch should relieve stiffness in the muscles along the outside of your neck and under your skull.

  1. Sit in an armless chair facing forward. Chest and shoulders are straight. Both feet are firmly on the ground.
  2. Let the right arm hang to the side, pointed at the floor. Drop your shoulders.
  3. Raise the left arm to the ceiling, and then reach over the head to gently cup the right ear.
  4. Gently draw the head to the left side of the body with very light pressure being aware of any stiffness in your muscles. Hold for a count of three. Release. Apply pressure again for a could of three. Release.
  5. Pulse this 3-second pattern 3-5 depending on your level of neck pain.
  6. Repeat on the opposite side.

 

Standing Stretches That Help Reduce Neck Pain & Stiffness

Arm Clasp

This stretch should relieve stiffness in the muscles in your shoulders, as well as the front and back of the neck. This not only helps reduce neck pain, and can give you a burst of energy since opening up the chest allows for deeper breathing.

  1. Stand straight, with hips shoulder-width apart. Stiffness in the neck can often cause the shoulders to hunch forward, so be sure to roll your shoulders back and down, so they are in a relaxed position.
  2. Clasp your hands behind your back.
  3. While pinching your shoulder blades together, raise your chin and extend your neck.
  4. Think of raising your chin to the ceiling as you extend back. Move slowly and gently to avoid neck pain.
  5. Hold for a couple of 3-5 seconds as you feel the stiffness in the muscles release.
  6. Repeat on the other side

Old Fashioned Side-to-Side

This traditional neck stretch may not seem as sexy, but it’s still highly effective and can be done throughout the day to prevent the effects of neck pain and stiffness in the shoulder muscles.

  1. Stand straight, with hips shoulder-width apart, roll your shoulders a few times, so they relax and to prevent them from slouching forward.
  2. Look to the right. Hold for a count of five. (Check to make sure your shoulders remain relaxed.)
  3. Bring the neck back to a neutral position, facing forward.
  4. Repeat on the left side.
  5. Be aware that stiff muscles contract, so continue to check your shoulders to prevent them moving forward or being raised.

Circle Stretches

This good overall stretch if very effective for stiffness in the neck, but must be done slooowly, gently and with extraordinary care.

  1. Stand straight, shoulders back and down. Eyes are looking forward. Chin in a neutral
  2. Turn your neck to the right, then let the chin drop to the shoulder.
  3. Allow the chin to guide the head through a full circular path:
    • Chin begins from a dropped position at the right shoulder
    • Chin remains dropped and rolls to the left across the front of the body
    • Chin begins to rise as it reaches the left shoulder.
    • Chin continues to rise toward the ceiling.
    • Chin remains raised, making a circular motion across the front of the body.
    • Chin begins to lower as it reaches the right side.
    • Chin lowers until eyes are level facing right.
    • Turn neck to look forward and return to neutral position.
    • Repeat counterclockwise.

 

Floor Stretches That Help Reduce Neck Pain & Stiffness

Neck Extensions

This stretch can be incorporated into your daily morning routine to “wake your muscles up” each day. Done regularly, you can move to the advanced movement, where you’ll quickly realize the relief you’ll feel from stiffness and chronic neck pain. You’ll feel this stretch in the front on your neck, back of the neck and in your shoulders.

  1. Lie on your stomach, forehead to the floor, and arms by your side.
  2. In a gentle arch, raise your chin while you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  3. Move your chin forward and up until you feel a soft stretch. Do not move past the point of comfort.
  4. Hold for 3 seconds and release.
  5. Return forehead to the floor.
  6. Repeat 5 or 6 times, depending on the level of stiffness. Do not strain.
  7. Advanced: As this movement becomes comfortable for you, you can increase the stretch by raising your chin while arching your back. Continue to advance until you can lift your upper chest off the floor. Squeeze shoulder blades together and keep them relaxed.

Crossbody

This stretch should relieve the stiffness in muscles located on the sides of your neck, as well as sore shoulder muscles.

  1. Lie on your back, arms to the side.
  2. Draw your right arm across the body to the left
  3. Use your left arm to support the right arm and to add a soft pressure.
  4. Turn your head to the right and hold for 2-3 seconds.
  5. Release slightly and hold again for another 2-3 seconds. Repeat five
  6. Slowly return the head to neutral.
  7. Release the right arm and return it to the side of your body.
  8. Lift your left arm across your body and repeat steps on this side.