6 Exercises to Reduce Stress and Strain in the Neck | IMPACT Physical Therapy

6 Exercises to Reduce Stress and Strain in the Neck

Shannon VanAntwerp

PT, DPT, CMPT, CMTPT, FAAOMPT, PCES, Astym Cert.

  Tue, Jul 28, 2020

Do you ever feel tightness in your neck and shoulders toward the end of the day? Have you had a headache after working on your computer or phone too long? Our posture has a lot to do with the function of our neck, or cervical muscles. If these muscles are misaligned or fatigued throughout the day, pain or stiffness may result.  Let us look at two common misalignments causing neck pain: our head and shoulders positioning.

Forward Head Posture

This is a common postural compensation that happens with extended periods of computer work, driving, and phone usage. The sternocleidomastoid muscle pulls the head forward causing the suboccipitals muscles to rest in extension. The levator scapulae muscles and semispinalis capitis become stressed and overworked. The suboccipitals, specifically the rectus capitis posterior, becomes fatigued from trying to keep the head and eyes “in line”. These muscles develop trigger points which can refer pain such as headaches, jaw pain, and neck pain.

Rounded Shoulders Posture

Sitting posture affects the neck as described above, as well as the shoulders, chest, and thoracic spine. Slumping creates a rounded shoulders posture that contributes to neck pain and stress. The muscles that are commonly tight in this posture are the pec major, pec minor, and upper trapezius.  The muscles that are typically weak are the rhomboids, middle trapezius, and lower trapezius muscles. Tightness and trigger points in the upper trapezius muscle are found to be one of the leading causes of headaches.

Below we will discuss 6 exercises to help reduce strain on these muscles and improve your posture to prevent strain and pain in these muscles. The overall goal of these exercises is to stretch the muscles that are tight and re-educate the muscles that are weak. These two strategies will facilitate proper posture and endurance of proper posture.

Corner Pec Stretch

Forward rounded shoulders are a big culprit for strain on the cervical muscles. The pectoral muscles across the chest can become tight after slouching for extended periods of time. Taking a break during the day to perform a corner pec stretch will take some of the strain off of your neck. The different positions help to stretch the various muscle fibers of the pec muscle. Choose a position, whichever feels the most tight, and lean into the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.

Chin Tuck

Another aspect of posture and the forward rounded head position is that the upper neck, or craniovertebral spine, is forced into extension. To prevent this position, re-education of the deep cervical flexor muscles is important. For this exercise lay on your back, tuck your chin toward your chest, imagine an axis through the ears. Try not to use the sternocleidomastoid muscle on the side of the neck. Hold the tuck for 5 seconds, repeat 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Upper Trapezius Stretch

Sitting at a computer for longer than 30 minutes can cause tightness and trigger points in the upper trapezius muscle. Taking a break for an upper trap stretch can be helpful to prevent headaches. It may be helpful to set an alarm throughout the day to stop and do this stretch. 30 seconds 3-5 times per side.

Wall Clocks

In addition to stretching, it is important to re-educate the muscles that facilitate proper posture. The wall clock exercise works several of the mid-back muscles that support posture. Reach to each corner and middle position, touching 6 points around the clock is 1 repetition. Repeat 5 repetitions for 3 sets. Try to maintain proper neck and shoulder position while doing this exercise. Do not hunch the shoulders up, keep the neck in a slight chin tuck.

Lower Trap Lift Off

This exercise is helpful to re-educate the mid-back muscles, specifically the lower trapezius. We discussed that his muscle gets weak with rounded shoulders. This exercise will also facilitate a little bit of thoracic extension. Arms overhead on the wall in a Y position. Make sure not to hunch your shoulders towards your ears. Lift your arms away from the wall, however much range you have available. Slowly return arms to the wall. Bonus points if you can maintain a slight chin tuck. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Foam Roller: Thoracic Extension

This stretch or mobilization is helpful to get out of the rounded shoulders position. While sitting in a slumped position, the thoracic spine sits in flexion. This position helps to reinforce thoracic extension. Sometimes you will feel a couple of pops, those are joints clicking back into place. Hold the head so that it does not fall back into extension and support the neck muscles. Roll up and down the thoracic spine 10-15 times. Make sure you do not hold your breath.

Neck Pain or Injury Treatment Near You

Do not let that pain in your neck slow you down! Here at IMPACT Physical Therapy, our clinicians will be able to assess your cervical and thoracic mobility and will work with you to address and treat your issues so you can get back to feeling your best. Our dedicated clinicians can effectively treat a variety of cervical injuries, and we also provide many other physical therapy and performance servicesContact us at one of our seven Illinois locations to learn more or to schedule a session!

Our offices are open and accepting appointments to provide essential care for our clients. In addition, we are now offering Virtual Visits with a licensed clinician.