Are you struggling with a literal pain in the neck? You aren’t alone. A sore neck is one of the most common complaints when it comes to musculoskeletal pain and injuries.
Luckily, there are many exercises and stretches for a sore neck that can help reduce your pain and improve your neck range of motion. In this article, we’re going to dive into exactly what exercises you can try to ease your discomfort, common causes of a sore neck, and how to prevent neck pain down the road.
Why Does My Neck Hurt?
Perhaps you woke up with a sore and painful neck. Or maybe you noticed your neck didn’t feel quite right after a full day of work. Whatever the case may be, you’re uncomfortable. So, what’s going on?
Most likely, you’ve experienced a muscle strain. This can easily happen due to poor posture or from simply lying the wrong way when sleeping.
Often, a muscle strain is due to overuse. This means that stress or strain is placed on the muscle for a long duration, such as hunching at your work desk all day or taking a lengthy phone call by crunching your phone between your shoulder and your head.
In other cases, neck pain can manifest from osteoarthritis, nerve compression, injuries (such as whiplash), or certain diseases. If you suspect any of these, it’s a good idea to book a visit with your doctor or physical therapist for further examination.
Additionally, if your neck pain is severe or persists for many days without any relief, you should contact your doctor. However, in most cases, a sore neck isn’t anything to worry about. In fact, most cases of a sore neck go away all on their own. At the same time, there are a few exercises you can do to quicken your recovery.
Exercises and Stretches for Your Sore Neck
You can use the following exercises and stretches for a sore neck to help regain some mobility, strengthen weak muscles that might be contributing to your discomfort, and find some relief from neck tightness.
However, if any of these exercises increase your pain, it’s best to wait until your pain has subsided a bit more before trying again. For all stretches, only go to the point before pain. You can also perform the following stretches every day. Meanwhile, it’s best to perform the strengthening exercises every other day.
1. Upper Trapezius Stretch
The upper trapezius muscle helps extend the neck and stabilize the shoulder blades. Stretching this muscle can help relieve some tension, as well as prevent future injury.
For this stretch, sit in a chair. Place your right hand under your buttocks. Use your left hand to pull your head toward your left shoulder. Keep your gaze forward as you do this, and only pull to the point where you feel a stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then release. Make sure you repeat this sequence on the opposite side.
2. Levator Scapulae Stretch
The levator scapulae muscles help you bend your neck backward and rotate your neck. It also acts as a stabilizer for various movements. The stretch for your levator scapulae muscle is very similar to the stretch for your upper trapezius but with a few key differences.
Similar to the last stretch, begin sitting with your right hand under your buttocks. Use your left hand to guide your head toward your left armpit, bringing your gaze toward this direction as well. Once you feel a gentle stretch, hold for 20-30 seconds. Once done, make sure you repeat this stretch on your opposite side.
3. Cervical Side Bend
This is more of a dynamic stretch, which means it’s more movement-based. Moving your head through dynamic stretches can help increase blood flow, decrease tension, and reduce pain. When doing any of these stretches, make sure, again, you only go to the point before pain.
In a sitting or standing position, simply bring your left ear to your left shoulder, without moving your shoulder up. Move your head back to the center, and bring your right ear to your right shoulder. Repeat this at least 8-10 times per side.
4. Neck Rotation
For the neck rotation dynamic stretch, bring your gaze and turn your head to your right side, then back to the center. Then, bring your gaze and turn your head to your left side. Repeat this for 8-10 repetitions.
5. Neck Flexion & Extension
In a sitting or standing position, bring your head and gaze down as far as you comfortably can. From there, bring your head back to the center, then bring your head back and your gaze upwards. If it feels good, you can also hold the neck at each end position for a brief pause. Perform 8-10 repetitions each way.
1. Chin Tuck
The chin tuck is one of the best exercises you can do to improve the strength of your neck and surrounding areas. Basically, this exercise helps strengthen the muscles that keep your head in proper alignment over top of your shoulders.
For performing this exercise, position your back against a wall. Make sure the back of your head is also touching the wall. Your head should also remain in a neutral position.
Once set-up, gently bring your chin inward, making a double chin face. Hold here for 5-10 seconds. Release, and repeat for 10-15 repetitions. Do 2-3 sets. Throughout the exercise, the back of your head should not come off of the wall.
Once this becomes easy, you can also perform this exercise on all fours, using gravity as your resistance. In this case, you may want to use a mirror or have a friend watch you, ensuring your back and neck remain neutral throughout the exercise.
2. Seated Row
While this strengthening exercise doesn’t specifically target the neck, it can help improve your posture and keep everything in alignment. The seated row works your mid and upper back muscles, helping your shoulders stay down and back. In turn, this can prevent your head from protruding forward, which places a ton of stress and strain on the neck.
For this exercise, you will need an exercise resistance band. Wrap the resistance band around a stable object. Sit in a chair, and hold each end of the resistance band in each hand.
Start with your arms straight in front of you and slight tension in the band. Slowly and gently pull the band toward you by bending your elbows and bring your elbows just past your torso. At the same time, punch your shoulder blades down and back. Pause, then slowly return to start.
Repeat for 10-15 repetitions and 2-3 sets.
How to Prevent Neck Pain
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to endure any neck soreness or pain. So, what can you do to prevent any neck problems in the future? Here are a few tips:
- Maintain a good posture. This means your shoulders should sit over the top of your hips and your head should sit over the top of your shoulders. If you work at a desk, sometimes, setting reminders every hour or so to correct your posture can help ensure you don’t let yours falter.
- Take breaks. Frequent breaks can give your muscles a much-needed break, preventing muscle strains.
- Don’t carry heavy bags over one shoulder. The weight of this can lead to muscular strains and neck pain.
- Re-assess how you sleep. Certain sleeping positions, such as lying on your stomach, can aggravate the neck muscles, causing pain.
- Consider adjusting your workstation. If you work at a desk, researching how to set up your work area with proper ergonomics can prevent you tons of pain down the line.
- Quit smoking. Smoking places you at a high risk of pain and many other chronic diseases. For your health and quality of life, it’s entirely worth it to quit.
A sore neck doesn’t have to become a regular occurrence. There are many things you can do (and exercises you can perform) to help reduce any neck soreness, as well as prevent future neck issues. Use the above strengthening exercises and stretches for a sore neck to help you overcome pain and discomfort.
When in doubt, working with a physical therapist can help you get back on track and back to your regular activities. If you need a bit more help or have neck pain that just won’t quit, don’t hesitate to contact us today.