Although you cannot lengthen your neck, there are ways to make it appear longer and more slender. Stretching, postural exercises, yoga and other gentle workouts may help decompress the neck and improve its appearance. In the long run, they may improve your posture and prevent cervical pain.
Exercise cannot lengthen your neck, but it may help improve your posture and stretch the muscles supporting the cervical spine, giving the impression of a longer neck.
Neck Anatomy Overview
The neck is one of the most complex structures in the human body. Its length comes from seven vertebral bodies numbered C1 to C7. These structures are separated from one another by intervertebral discs, explains the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
The above structures consist of bone and therefore cannot be lengthened. But your neck also has several muscles that can be stretched and elongated through regular exercise.
The muscles and ligaments in the neck provide support to the seven vertebral bodies described above, allowing you to move your head and neck. The upper trapezius, for example, is a superficial neck muscle that helps stabilize the scapula, or the shoulder blade, when you move your torso.
Poor posture, teeth grinding and other bad habits can strain the neck muscles, warns the Mayo Clinic. Furthermore, aging and certain conditions, such as osteoarthritis, may cause wear and tear of the cartilage between your cervical vertebrae, leading to pain and limited mobility. Addressing these factors through exercise and lifestyle changes may help keep your neck muscles healthy and strong.
Exercises to Improve Your Posture
Few things are more damaging to your neck than bad posture. Sitting in awkward positions puts stress on the neck muscles, forcing them to work harder. Over time, it may lead to neck pain and muscle strains.
Good posture may help prevent muscle fatigue, prevent or relieve joint pain and protect against strains, notes the American Chiropractic Association. Poor posture, on the other hand, may lead to abnormally tight muscles and hence make your neck look shorter.
A small study published in Manual Therapy in June 2012 has found that certain functional postural exercises activate the deep neck flexor muscle and may improve its function in as little as two weeks.
UMass Lowell recommends practicing diaphragmatic breathing, a simple yet effective exercise that may help improve your posture and reduce stress on the neck muscles. To put it simply, you need to learn how to breathe through your belly. Follow these steps:
- Lie on your back with a pillow under your head and neck and one under your knees
- Place your right hand on the belly and the left hand on your upper chest
- Take a deep breath through your nose; the hand on your stomach should rise while the one on your chest should remain still
- Exhale through your mouth while squeezing your abdominal muscles to let the air out
- Practice three to four times per day to reap the benefits
In addition to diaphragmatic breathing, there are several other exercises you can do regularly to improve your posture. The shoulder pinch, for example, requires sitting on a chair with your back straight and your elbows out to the sides. Take a deep breath while pulling your arms back until your shoulder blades touch each other. Exhale and return to the starting position.
Side bends, trunk rotations and pectoral stretches may help too, according to the Nationwide Children's Hospital. Watch your posture at all times, not just during exercise. Avoid prolonged sitting and distribute your weight evenly on both hips when walking, running or working on the computer.
Make Stretching a Habit
Regular stretching is perhaps one of the best ways to relax and lengthen your neck. Medical professionals recommend gentle stretching for neck pain, osteoporosis and even congenital muscular torticollis, a condition caused by tight, short neck muscles. According to a February 2012 review featured in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, stretching may help increase muscle fiber length and reduce muscle stiffness.
A simple way to stretch your neck is to rotate your head to one side. Hold the stretch for a few seconds without moving your shoulders. Repeat on the other side.
Yoga is an excellent way to stretch your neck and spine. The cat/cow pose, for example, stretches and strengthens your core and back muscles. The downward-facing dog builds upper body strength, stretches your back and promotes relaxation.
Over time, these simple exercises may help improve your posture and strengthen the muscles that support your spine. As a result, you will stand taller and lower your risk of neck and back pain. Good posture gives the impression of a longer neck and slender body.
- American Association of Neurological Surgeons: "Cervical Spine"
- Journal of Athletic Training: "Serratus Anterior and Upper Trapezius Electromyographic Analysis of the Push-Up Plus Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Neck Pain"
- Musculoskeletal Australia: "Neck Pain"
- American Chiropractic Association: "Maintaining Good Posture"
- Manual Therapy: "Can a Functional Postural Exercise Improve Performance in the Cranio-Cervical Flexion Test? – A Preliminary Study"
- UMass Lowell: "Posture and Core Stability"
- Nationwide Children’s Hospital: "Exercises: Breathing, Posture and Chest Mobility"
- Upstate University Hospital: "Pilates Exercises for Individuals With Osteoporosis"
- University of Rochester: "Congenital Muscular Torticollis"
- Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America: "The Effects of Active and Passive Stretching on Muscle Length"
- California Department of Public Health: "Shape of Yoga"