4 Ways to Stretch Your Neck When It’s Feeling Seriously Tight

Photo: Stocksy/Lyuba Burakova
When I wake up in the morning the first thing I do is stretch out my arms, my legs, and crack my back. That's the extent of prepping my body for the day ahead though something I know I'm likely falling short on since my back and neck are likely the most strained parts of my body. And I know this isn't just me either—there's a reason we're all so obsessed with our posture and the 21st-century boogeyman that is tech neck.

According to Alain Saint-Dic, trainer at Stretch Relief, there are many other reasons that you could be feeling discomfort in your neck. "The first form can come as acute pain, such as being involved in something that causes impact (ex. car accident or contact sport), or rapid movement in the neck area which is surrounded by tight muscles groups, leading to a strain." The second type of neck strain and tension is the more common one and comes from things like postural issues, or "by constantly leaning your head forward to look at a computer screen or phone, spending long periods of time driving, or sleeping in an awkward position." 

In general, Saint-Dic says that prevention is always better than treatment, which is why he advocates "stretching regularly when you wake up in the morning, or before you go to sleep every night." But stretching your neck is not a cure for a serious issue, and if you suspect you're dealing with something more serious you should always see a doctor. 

Also, Saint-Dic says that if you experience something like sudden pain or severe discomfort see a health-care professional "to make sure there aren’t any skeletal issues or nerve damage." The symptoms you should look out for in these scenarios are "very limited range of motion, shooting pains, and pain accompanied by blurry vision or headaches." He says even outside of these you should try to asses your pain level on a scale from 1–10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest). If you're at a 6 or above you should see a medical professional immediately.

But if you're just looking for exercises to work out those tech-neck kinks or some mild discomfort from sleeping on the wrong side of the bed, here are some neck stretching exercises to try out.

1. The Straight Chin Tuck

This is a common exercise and one you might even do regularly in certain workout classes. The straight chin tuck is useful for aligning the head above the spine and counteracting some of the Quasimodo-like effects of bad posture. It should help improve your neck's strength and flexibility. Below is Saint-Dic's outline for how to do the exercise.

Step 1: Pinch your shoulder blades back and sit tall to assume a neutral posture.

Step 2: Carefully tilt your head back to look up at the ceiling.

Step 3: Then proceed to tuck your chin slowly towards your chest. Hold for 45 secs then repeat.

2. Diagonal Chin Tuck (Levator Scapula Stretch)

Your levator scapula is a skeletal muscle at the back and side of your neck and is a common pain point that leads to neck stiffness. Saint-Dic's exercise for this area, outlined below, can be done a few times a day, more if needed since strengthening this muscle can help prevent further discomfort.

Step 1: Pinch your shoulder blades back and sit tall to assume a neutral posture.

Step 2: Assuming your eyes are facing a 12 o' clock position, turn your head until your eyes are fixed on a 2 o' clock position.

Step 3: Bring your right hand to the back of your head and gently pull your chin towards your chest. Hold for 45 secs and repeat on the other side by assuming a 10 o' clock position.

3. Head pulls to the side 

This exercise is for your trapezius muscle, which extends from your neck all the way down through your back, according to Saint-Dic. Because your traps are related to three major areas—your neck, your shoulder blades, and your back, stiffness in this area can seriously compromise your mobility and comfort. Below, Saint-Dic outlines an easy, two-step solution for strengthening and stretching the area.

Step 1: Pinch your shoulder blades back and sit tall to assume a neutral posture.

Step 2: With your eyes looking directly in front of you, reach over your head to cover your right ear with your left hand, elbow point toward the ceiling. Tilt your head gently to the right side like you're trying to touch your ear to your shoulder until you feel a stretch in your traps. Hold for 45 secs then repeat on the other side.

4. Head circles

Head circles are an easy exercise you can do pretty much anytime.

Step 1: Drop your head forward.

Step 2: Make slow circles with your head in a clockwise position, fluidly moving from tilting your head forward, rolling your right ear toward your right shoulder, tilting your head back to the wall behind you, then rolling your left ear toward your left shoulder.

Step 3: Stop and hold in place for a few seconds when you feel tightness.

Step 4: Repeat for 30 seconds then reverse the circle in the opposite direction.

Sitting at a desk all day can be damaging to your body. These are the posture tips that will help you banish tech neck and a workout you can do without leaving your desk (or raising eyebrows).

Loading More Posts...