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Exercises to Relax Neck & Shoulder Muscles

by
author image Aubrey Bailey
Aubrey Bailey has been writing health-related articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in ADVANCE for Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine. She holds a Bachelor of Science in physical therapy and Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University at Buffalo, as well as a post-professional Doctor of Physical Therapy from Utica College. Dr. Bailey is also a certified hand therapist.
Exercises to Relax Neck & Shoulder Muscles
Stress can often cause tightness in your neck and shoulder muscles. Photo Credit STUDIOGRANDOUEST/iStock/Getty Images

Tight neck and shoulder muscles can develop from overuse or injury. According to a study published by the Journal of American Physical Therapy Association in 2012, tightness in these areas can also be caused by stress. Regardless of the cause, exercises can help relax tight neck and shoulder muscles. These exercises are most effective when performed at least five times per week.

Door Stretch

One pair of muscles that are often tight and can impact the shoulder are the pectoralis muscles at the front of your chest. This is frequently the case if you spend a lot of time sitting during the day. The door stretch helps relax the pectoralis muscles.

HOW TO DO IT: Stand in an open, narrow doorframe. Stagger your feet to improve your balance. Grip the sides of the doorframe around shoulder-height. Slowly lean through the doorframe until you feel a stretch across the front of your chest.

Do not stretch to the point of pain. Hold this stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat three times in a row.

Upper Trapezius Stretch

The upper trapezius muscle runs along the top of your shoulders and along the back of your neck. This muscle often carries tension and tightness.

HOW TO DO IT: Sit up straight in a chair. Gently grip the side of the chair with you right hand. Tilt your left ear toward your left shoulder as far as possible. Then, slowly turn your head to the right and look toward the ceiling until you feeling a pulling sensation along the right side of your neck. Do not stretch to the point of pain.

TIP: If you do not feel a strong stretch, place your left hand on top of your head to add gentle pressure into the stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times on each side.

Variations

The starting position for the upper trapezius stretch can be used to stretch other muscles.

Scalene Stretch

There are scalene muscles on each side of the neck. These muscles frequently become tight, particularly if you sit a lot. After gripping the chair seat, tilt your left ear toward your left shoulder until you feel a strong pull along the right side of your neck. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times on both sides.

TIP: To increase the amount of pull, reach across your body with your left hand and place it on top of your right collarbone for added counterweight.

Levator Scapula Stretch

If you have tight shoulder and neck muscles, you might notice that you hold your shoulders in a shrugged position. Tight levator scapula muscles can contribute to this. After gripping the chair seat, tilt your head to the left side and down toward your left armpit. As with previous stretches, hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat three times. You should feel this stretch along the back of the left side of your neck.

TIP: Increase the intensity of this stress by placing your left hand on top of your head to add slight pressure into the stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times on each side.

Other Helpful Tips

In addition to exercise, there are other effective ways to relax tight muscles. Heat can be applied using a microwavable hot pack, electric heating pad or soaking in a warm bath.

Heating your neck before stretching increases blood flow to the area which can improve your range of motion and decrease discomfort. Because neck and shoulder tightness can also be caused by stress, activities such as yoga and meditation can also be effective.

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