Gentle Neck Stretching Exercises

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Four Neck Stretches

Woman with an ice pack on neck

Daily living, poor posture, and injury often result in tight neck muscles. If you have neck pain or tightness in your neck muscles, your physical therapist can help prescribe the best exercises to help improve your ability to move your neck fully and with little or no pain.

Learn these four gentle neck stretching exercises that your physical therapist may prescribe to decrease muscle tightness. The exercises can be performed while lying on your back (to provided assisted support) or in the seated or standing position. Read on to review these four exercises.

Be sure to check in with your doctor or physical therapist before starting these, or any other, neck exercises.

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Flexion Stretch - Chin to Chest

Begin each exercise with your neck in midline position. Your head should be centered and not tilted forward, back, or to the side. You can do this exercise while either lying flat on your back or sitting up.

  1. Gently bend your head forward while bringing your chin toward your chest.
  2. Stop when a stretch is felt in the back of your neck.
  3. Hold position for 20 seconds.
  4. Return to starting position.
  5. Repeat this 4 more times.

Some patients benefit from simply moving to the point of feeling a stretch and then releasing without holding the stretch. Your PT can show you the best way for your specific condition. Be sure to stop if you feel worsening pain in your neck as you are stretching.

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Extension Stretch - Eyes to Sky

Cervical extension involves looking up, and it can help relieve tension in your neck. Extension of your cervical spine may also be useful to help relieve pain from bulging discs in your neck.

Begin each exercise with your neck in midline position. Your head should be centered and not tilted forward, back, or to the side. You can do this exercise while either lying flat on your back or sitting up.

  1. Gently bend your head backward so that your eyes are looking up to the "sky".
  2. Stop when a stretch is felt in the front of your neck.
  3. Hold position for 20 seconds.
  4. Return to starting position.
  5. Repeat this 4 more times.

Again, some patient do better with this stretch by moving rhythmically from the stretched to the ralxed position. Your PT can help determine the best way to perform this stretch.

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Rotation - Side to Side

Begin each exercise with your neck in midline position. Your head should be centered and not tilted forward, back, or to the side. You can do this exercise while either lying flat on your back or sitting up.

  1. Gently turn your head to the left, looking over your left shoulder.
  2. Stop when a stretch is felt in the right side of your neck.
  3. Hold position for 20 seconds.
  4. Return to starting position.
  5. Repeat above stretch 4 times.
  6. Gently turn your head to the right, looking over your right shoulder.
  7. Stop when a stretch is felt in the left side of your neck.
  8. Hold position for 20 seconds.
  9. Return to starting position.
  10. Repeat above stretch 4 more times.

If either rotation direction causes pain, stop and check in with your PT.

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Lateral Flexion - Ear to Shoulder

Begin each exercise with your neck in midline position. Your head should be centered and not tilted forward, back, or to the side. You can do this exercise while either lying flat on your back or sitting up.

  1. Gently bend your neck in attempts to touch your left ear to your shoulder.
  2. Stop when a stretch is felt in the right side of your neck.
  3. Hold position for 20 seconds.
  4. Return to starting position.
  5. Repeat above stretch 4 more times.
  6. Gently bend your neck in attempts to touch your right ear to your shoulder.
  7. Stop when a stretch is felt in the left side of your neck.
  8. Hold position for 20 seconds.
  9. Return to starting position.
  10. Repeat above stretch 5 more times.

This exercise program can be performed daily to help relieve neck pain and tension. Remember, everyone is different, and your specific neck condition may require unique exercises that are different from the ones in this program. Check in with your PT to learn the best exercises for you.

Edited by Brett Sears, PT.

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