Sitting at a computer all day, driving long distances and even sleeping in awkward positions can not only cause a stiff neck, but may promote forward neck posture. Forward neck posture is commonly seen in people who spend a lot of time sitting, as shoulders stoop forward, taking the head with it.
Unfortunately, incorrect neck posture leads to tension, strain and pain in the shoulders and may cause cervical neck conditions, pinched nerves or arthritis. Learning a few simple straight neck exercises can promote proper neck alignment and posture. Correcting your workstation set up, as explained by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, can also improve posture.
Check Your Posture
It's important to have a straight neck to keep the weight of your head centered over the bones in your spine. Assess your neck position while lying down — as demonstrated by the North American Spine Society before performing straight neck exercises.
- Lie on your back, without a pillow.
- Allow your head to sink down to bring your ears, shoulders and hips into alignment.
- Rest in this position for 5 minutes, gradually working up to 10 minutes to allow tight muscles to stretch.
1. Shoulder Rolls
This exercise will help relieve neck strain and hunching. You can do this exercise for about 30 seconds several times a day.
- Stand with your feet about shoulder distance apart, arms at your sides.
- Pull the shoulder blades together with a rolling motion of the shoulders, focusing on keeping your shoulders pressed downward and not hunching upward toward your ears.
- Rotate your palms outward at your hips, as if someone's going to place something on your open palm.
- Pull the chin back, not down, as if you're trying to touch the back of your head to an imaginary wall behind you.
2. Gentle Neck Roll
Keep the neck joints lubricated and help prevent pain and arthritic conditions by standing straight, as if a string is pulling the top of the back of your head up toward the ceiling.
- Make several circles with the top of your head, gradually increasing the range of motion and circle diameter.
- Keep these circles gentle and slow.
While circling the head, envision the string continuing to pull the head upward. Be sure to sit up tall with your shoulder blades pulled back. This exercise does not require a large movement of the head or twisting it forward or backward. The angle of the head at the side of the roll shouldn't be more than 45 degrees.
3. Neck Retraction Stretch
The neck retraction stretch, as demonstrated by ExRx.net, will lengthen the sternocleidomastoid, or major frontal neck muscle, and the splenius, the muscle that connects the back of the skull to the spinal column, thus offering more support for the head to maintain proper alignment.
- Stand with feet together and shoulders back and pressed downward.
- Pull your head toward the rear and tilt your chin slightly downward.
- Hold that contraction for about 10 seconds and then release.
- Repeat several times.