Woke up with a stiff neck? These 4 pro-approved stretches should help loosen it up


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Photo: Getty Images/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

If I could count the number of times that I’ve woken up with a terrible, no good, very bad crick in my neck, I’d… have enough money for a massage. It’s the worst situation—not only because it hurts like heck, but because I have never known how to deal with the thing. Everything I’ve tried in the past winds up making the stifnesss even worse. So for the sake of all of us crick-getters, I’m getting help from the pros.

Although these knots seem to come out of thin air, they typically happen overnight—and there’s a reason for that. “Waking up with a crick in the neck is almost always due to sleeping in a compromised position,” says Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d. “If the head is leaning toward one side for multiple hours, the muscles that are contracted are going to seize up and tighten much more than the opposing side.”

While I tend to use this situation as a legit excuse to skip the gym and hit up the couch, you don’t necessarily have to use crick days as rest days. Brannigan says it depends on the severity of the issue. “If your neck is feeling stiff in the morning, take a few extra minutes before your workout to do some stretches—give yourself some extra sets and repetitions if you need it—and you’ll be prepped for the workout,” he says. That said, if you’re in a lot of pain, it’s best to skip your sweat sesh and give your body time to recover, or contact a professional.

Whether you’re planning on exercising or not, though, there are thankfully some crick-relieving neck stretches that can help make it easier to move your head around like normal again. Brannigan’s advice? Do what Stretch*d dubs the “Yes,” “No,” “Maybe,” and “Maybe so” (which, ICYWW, are named for the way you nod your head “yes” and shake it “no”). Each stretch targets a different muscle group within the neck, and will help you realign, lengthen, and reduce pain ASAP.  Pro tip: Rub on some CBD cream where the pain is, then try these moves for yourself.

Expert-approved neck stretches:

Yes: “‘Yes’ targets the neck extensors which are the muscles in the back of the neck,” says Brannigan. With your hands placed on the back of your head, tuck your chin and roll your head forward until your chin meets your chest. You can gently assist the end of the movement with your hands at the back of the head. Keep your shoulders down and don’t force the movement.

No: This one’s all about the neck rotators, aka those muscles in the back and side of your neck. While looking straight ahead, turn your head to one side until your chin is over your shoulder. If you’re turning to the right, reach up with your right hand and place the fingertips along your left jawline. Press very gently to guide the end of the stretch. Be sure to keep your shoulders down and your body still. Turn your head to the other side and repeat the stretch.

Maybe: Brannigan notes this stretch is for the muscle that runs along the side and front of your neck. Looking straight ahead, lower your ear straight down to your shoulder. With the hand that’s on the same side as that shoulder, reach up over the top of your head, place your fingertips on your temple, and gently assist the end of the movement. Keep your shoulders down and body still.

Maybe so: This gets those neck oblique extensors, which travel along the back of the neck from the base of the skull down toward the rear shoulder. Turn your head left to a 45-degree angle, then drop your head forward, bringing your right ear toward your chest. Place your right hand on top of your head and gently press down to assist the end of the movement. Keep your shoulders down and body still.

If your shoulder blades are in knots, try shoulder flossing to stretch ’em all out. And if your back is where it hurts, here’s the deal on your hamstrings and how they help with lower back pain.

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