When the head and shoulders drift forward due to poor posture, some muscles in the chest and neck can shorten and become tight over time, which can perpetuate the poor posture that is causing neck pain.
See How Poor Posture Causes Neck Pain
The following stretching exercises can help loosen postural muscles and may reduce neck pain.
Watch: Video: Why Is Exercise Important for Neck Pain?
A basic exercise that is important for stretching the chest and shoulder muscles is the corner stretch. It is performed in the corner of a room.
This stretch is done as follows:
This stretch can be performed 3 to 5 times per day. It is a good one to do before neck strengthening exercises.
There are two levator scapulae muscles—one on each side of the neck—that attach to the top four transverse processes and go down to the shoulder. This muscle can become tight and may be tender where it attaches to the shoulder blade. Stretching this muscle can play a role in reducing neck pain.
The levator scapulae stretch can be performed while sitting or standing as follows:
If desired, the levator scapulae stretch can be repeated multiple times during the day.
Stretches for the neck should never be done to the point of pain or soreness. Appropriate pain management is often an important part of any neck stretching routine.
Neck circles, which involve the slow rotation of the head being tilted and rolled in a full circle, have been performed by most people in gym class or while participating in a sport or dance class. However, research shows that the combination of extending the head backward and rotating it puts undue stress on the cervical spine. Compared to other neck movements, neck circles could also cause more compression of the arteries that take blood to the brain.
See Video: The 3 Worst Things You Can Do To Your Neck
Especially for a person who has been dealing with neck pain, neck circles are typically not recommended.
Some experts recommend stretching tight muscles before strengthening weak muscles. The theory is that tight muscles relax after being stretched, and then subsequent strengthening exercises are more effective. However, this theory has not yet been scientifically proven.
Whether neck stretches are done before or after neck strengthening exercises may not have a big effect. In general, it is good to do both stretching and strengthening exercises, so long as they do not increase pain.