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Self-Care for the Neck & Upper Shoulders: 4 Simple Stretches

Neck and upper shoulder pain is among the top complaints that clients come in with during the course of the year. The discomfort ranges from stiffness and decreased range of motion to headaches and outright pain. Typically, this is attributed to long hours at work behind a computer, or for those who commute long distances, sitting behind the wheel of the car. Increasingly, as noted in our last newsletter, text neck is another contributing factor to our sore necks and shoulders. Text neck is caused by excessive mobile device use, particularly while looking downward in a slumped position.

Regardless of the reason for upper body discomfort, here are a few basic stretches to incorporate into your self-care routine to help reduce stiffness and increase your range of motion. Note that by gently changing positions of the neck or torso (e.g., leaning the torso forward or adjusting the angle of the neck) you can get at different aspects of the muscles.

Basic concepts
  • Breathe! When doing any stretching, remember to breathe.
  • Move slowly, gently, and with awareness to your body.
  • Take the stretch only as far as it feels comfortable. DO NOT take it into pain or discomfort.
  • If your have a medical condition which could be impacted by exercise, or if you feel unusual pain or discomfort during the stretch, talk to your doctor.

There are various ways to stretch. One popular method is to hold a stretch for 20-30 seconds. However, I prefer an active approach in which the stretch lasts for only a few seconds, but has multiple repetitions. Among the advantages to active stretching is the reduced risk of injury if you are exceptionally tight. It also better facilitates ease of movement and increased range of motion. Follow these simple steps:
  • As you move into the stretch, exhale through your mouth for about 3 seconds. The exhalation helps your body relax and encourages your muscles to melt into the movement.
  • After exhaling and reaching a comfortable end range of motion, return your head back to neutral, or the position you were in before going into the stretch.
  • Complete 5-10 repetitions on of these mini 3-second stretches on each side, taking the stretch further each time if the body allows it.
  • Remember, DO NOT take the stretch into pain or discomfort.
4 Easy Stretches

The following stretches are best done seated, although standing works as well. All can easily be incorporated short breaks at your workplace.

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows a stretch for the Right side of your neck, upper shoulder and into back of the neck (Levator Scapulae). The greatest stretch should be at the "V" where the neck meets the shoulder. Rotate your head to the Left and look into your Left armpit, tucking your chin into your chest. The Right arm can hold on to the underside of your chair for support and enhanced stretch. If doing an active stretch, return to neutral by simply untucking your chin and raising your head, keeping your head rotated to the Left. You are automatically in position for another repetition.

Figure 2

Figure 2 demonstrates a stretch for the upper aspect of the Left shoulder (Trapezius). Depending on how much you flex your head and your chin to your chest, you may feel this all the way up the back of your neck and up into the head. Rotate your head to the Left (same side), pulling your head down to your chest while simultaneously tucking your chin to your chest. The Left arm can hold on to the underside of the chair for support and enhanced stretch. Again, if doing an active stretch, bring your head up and untuck your chin, but keep your head rotated to the Left.

Figure 3

Figure 3 shows a stretch for the side of the Left neck (Middle Scalene, Levator Scapula, Trapezius). You will primarily feel this along entire Left side of your neck, but possibly all the way to your clavicle. Looking straight ahead; bring your head to your opposite shoulder. Return with your head straight up, looking forward. Your Left arm can hold onto the underside of your chair.

Figure 4

Figure 4 demonstrates a stretch for your neck rotators (Semispinalis, Splenius) located in the posterior part of your neck. Rotate your head to each side and return to center. Please note that although the arrow indicates a stretch for the Left posterior aspect of the neck, since you have muscles on each side of your neck that assist you in turning your head to the left and the right, you could feel a stretch on one or both sides of your neck with either direction.



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