How to Stretch Out a Stiff Neck

A stiff neck can arise due to a variety of causes, such as sitting or standing with poor posture, sleeping in an awkward position, or turning your head repeatedly or suddenly. Stretching the muscles that surround and act on your neck, particularly the affected area, may help alleviate the condition and prevent recurring problems. Consult your doctor, however, before starting a stretching program to rule out more serious causes of neck stiffness, such as a cervical spine disorder or meningitis, that may require more extensive treatment. Additionally, visit a physical therapist to determine which specific stretches are the most appropriate for you.

A businesswoman is stretching her stiff neck. (Image: dnberty/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 1

Drop your chin toward your chest from a seated or standing position to stretch the muscles on the back of your neck, which are responsible for moving your head backward. Press on the back of your head gently to deepen the stretch, if desired. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then return to the starting position and repeat. Complete several repetitions.

Step 2

Sit on the front edge of a chair with your torso erect. Hold under the seat with your left hand, then tilt your head to the right, moving your ear toward your shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch through the left side of your neck. Press downward on the left side of your head with your right hand to deepen the stretch, if desired. Hold for at least 10 seconds, then return to a neutral position and repeat in the opposite direction to stretch the right side of your neck.

Step 3

Extend your neck to move the back of your head toward your upper back if the muscles that flex your neck forward feel stiff. Press on your forehead to deepen the stretch, if desired, and hold for 10 seconds or more. Complete multiple repetitions.

Step 4

Sit or stand upright with your head in a neutral position, looking straight ahead. Rotate your head to the left, keeping your eyes level, until you feel light tension through the right side of your neck. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds, then reverse to stretch the left side of your neck.

Step 5

Start in the same position as the other stretches from a seated or standing position. Move your chin toward your chest, just like the first stretch, then immediately roll your head to the left, backward, to the right and forward. Continue rolling your head like this for five to 10 repetitions, then reverse directions. Move in a slow and controlled manner.

Tip

To perform any of the first four stretches dynamically, hold the stretch for one to two seconds and move back to the starting position repeatedly for 10 to 30 seconds.

Warning

Stretching improperly or too far can aggravate your condition. Consult a physician or physical therapist if your neck stiffness does not improve.

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