Stretches for a Stiff Neck

For those of you who get a stiff neck from sitting too long at a desk or in front of a computer, the following stretches will help ease chronic upper body tension, especially if they are incorporated into a morning and evening stretching routine. Take the time to break from your work throughout the day and do at least some of the following exercises.

Stretching should be done slowly and with gradual movements. Each stretch builds on the previous so do the exercises in the order shown. Go to the edge of your comfort but not beyond. Tension should feel like a release not like pain! Be mindful while you stretch and practice proper breathing. The dotted areas are the locations in the body where you will feel most of the stretching.

1. Separate and straighten your fingers until the sensation of stretching is felt. Hold for 10 seconds. Relax, then bend your fingers at the knuckles and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat several times.

2. This stretch is fun to show your colleagues! Eye strain is a source of tension in the face. Raise your eyebrows and open your eyes as much as possible. At the same time, open your mouth to stretch the muscles around your nose and chin. Stick out your tongue and hold for several seconds. Cease stretching if you hear or feel a popping sound. Discuss the stretch with your dentist before continuing.

3. Raise the tops of your shoulders in a shrug toward your ears until you feel a slight tension. Hold for several seconds then relax your shoulders. Repeat. Discontinue at the first sign of tightness in the shoulders. Keep the breath fluid and normal. You can also do one shoulder at a time in succession. Coordinate with the breath.

4. With fingers interlaced behind the head, keep elbows straight out to the side body in an aligned position. Now pull your shoulder blades toward each other to create a feeling of tension in the upper back and shoulder blades. Hold the mild tension (but not your breath) for several seconds. Repeat.

5. Start with the head in a comfortable aligned position. Slowly tilt the head to the left side and hold for several seconds. Repeat on the right side.

6. From a stable aligned position, sitting with the feet flat on the floor, turn your chin toward your left shoulder to stretch the right side of the neck. You should feel a gentle tension, not tightness of any kind. Hold for several seconds and repeat on the right side.

7. Gently tilt your head forward to stretch the back of the neck. Hold for several seconds. Repeat. Do not over stretch.


9. Hold your left arm just above the elbow with the right hand. Now gently pull the elbow toward the opposite shoulder as you look over your left shoulder. Hold stretch for several seconds. Do both sides.

10. Interlace fingers then straighten arms out in front of you. The palms will face outward. You’ll feel the stretch in the arms and through the upper part of the shoulder blades. Hold for several seconds. Repeat.

11. Interlace fingers then turn palms upwards above your head as you straighten your arms. Elongate your arms and feel the stretch throughout the sides of the rib cage  and the arms. Hold for several seconds as long as it feels like a release, not pain. Repeat.

12. Hold left elbow with right hand, then gently pull elbow behind head until and easy tension is felt in shoulder or back of the arms. The triceps are the main location of this stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, but don’t overstretch. Repeat on the other side.

13. Hold onto your lower leg just below the knee. Gently pull the bent leg toward your chest. To isolate a stretch in the side of your upper leg, use the right arm to pull bent leg across the chest toward the opposite shoulder. Hold the easy tension for several seconds.  Repeat on the other side.

14. A stretch for the side of hips, lower and middle of the back. Sit with left leg bent over right leg, then rest elbow of forearm of right arm on the outside of the upper thigh of the left leg. Now apply gentle yet steady pressure toward the right with the elbow or forearm. As you do this look over your left shoulder. Do both sides. Hold several seconds each and repeat if desired.

15. The next stretch is done with fingers interlaced behind your back. Slowly turn your elbows inward while straightening your arms. An excellent stretch for shoulders and arms, especially if you find yourself slumping forward. This stretch can be done at anytime. Hold for several seconds and repeat at least twice.

16. To stretch your calf and hip flexors, stand somewhat back from the wall and lean on it with your forearms. With your head resting on your arms, bend and place your foot on the floor in front while leaving the other leg straight behind you. Keep the heel of the foot of the straight leg on the floor and your toes pointed straight ahead. Hold a gentle tension for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

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