6 Exercises to Reduce Stress & Strain in Your Neck | IMPACT Physical Therapy

6 Exercises to Reduce Stress and Strain in Your Neck

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 staring at your phone for 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. In this article, we’ll look at two common misalignments causing neck pain: the position of the head and shoulders.

Neck Pain?

Are you experiencing strain in your neck due to stress?

Below, we will discuss how your head and shoulder position can cause neck pain, and six neck and trapezius exercises for pain. The overall goal of these personalized exercises is to stretch tight muscles to improve the range of motion and to strengthen weak muscles so that they can provide the proper support. Together, these two strategies will facilitate proper posture and reduce pain in your neck.

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, become fatigued from trying to keep the head and eyes “in line”. These muscles develop trigger points which can cause referred 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.

Best Physical Therapy Exercises for Neck Pain

If you see a physical therapist for neck stiffness, they will assess your posture and range of motion and then prescribe a combination of neck strain exercises customized for you. Below are six of the most effective physical therapy exercises for neck pain that you can try out at home.

Corner Pec Stretch

Forward-rounded shoulders are a big culprit of 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. 

  1. Standing upright, position yourself facing a doorway or a corner.
  2. Place your forearms flat on the door frame or wall, with your elbows at shoulder height
  3. Slowly lean forward until you feel a light stretch in the front of your shoulders. You can take a small step forward if needed.
  4. Hold this position 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.

  1. Lay on your back, tuck your chin toward your chest, and imagine an axis through your ears. Try not to use the sternocleidomastoid muscle on the side of the neck. 
  2. Hold the tuck for 5 seconds.
  3. Perform 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. 

This is one of the simplest trapezius exercises for pain, and it works by creating a stretch through your neck and across your upper trapezius.

  1. Place your left hand on the right side of your head as shown.
  2. Apply gentle pressure, pulling your head towards your shoulder. 
  3. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch to the other side.
  4. Repeat 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. 

  1. Set yourself up as shown in the video. 
  2. Reach to each corner and middle position.
  3. Touching 6 points around the clock is 1 repetition.
  4. Try to maintain proper neck and shoulder position while doing this exercise. 
  5. Do not hunch the shoulders up; keep the neck in a slight chin tuck.
  6. Repeat 5 times for 3 sets.

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. 

  1. Begin with arms overhead on the wall in a Y position. 
  2. Make sure not to hunch your shoulders.
  3. Lift your arms away from the wall as shown in the video.
  4. Stay within a range of motion where you feel comfortable.
  5. Slowly return arms to the wall. Bonus points if you can maintain a slight chin tuck. 
  6. 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. 

  1. Lay down with the foam roller under your upper back.
  2. Hold the head to support your neck muscles.
  3. Roll up and down the thoracic spine. 
  4. Make sure you are not holding your breath during the exercise.
  5. Repeat 10-15 times.

Reduce Pain With a Personalized Program of Neck Strain Exercises

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 with custom neck strain exercises 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 services

Contact one of our eight Illinois locations or request an appointment online to take control of your neck pain today!