A stiff neck can be incredibly uncomfortable and make daily activities difficult. While a stiff neck will often resolve on its own within a few days, gentle stretching can help relieve pain and restore mobility faster. The following easy stretches can be done at home to help alleviate a stiff, sore neck.
Look Side to Side
Simple neck rolls from side to side can be an effective way to stretch the neck muscles. Sit or stand with good upright posture. Slowly turn your head toward your right shoulder as far as is comfortable, holding for 5 seconds. Return your head to face forward. Next, turn your head to look over your left shoulder, again holding for 5 seconds before facing forward again. Repeat this neck roll 5-10 times on each side. Move slowly and deliberately rather than quickly jerking the neck from side to side.
Rolling the shoulders forward and backward can also provide relief for a stiff neck by loosening the muscles around the neck and upper back. Sit or stand tall. Lift both shoulders up toward your ears. Slowly roll them forward by hunching your back slightly, then draw them backward by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions, keeping the movements slow and controlled. This stretch can be done a few times throughout the day to help reduce tension.
This stretch specifically targets the muscles in the front of the neck that may feel tight or sore with a stiff neck. Sit upright and look straight ahead. Push your chin back as if to make a double chin, hold for 5 seconds and relax. Next, tip your right ear down toward your right shoulder without lifting your shoulders. Hold for 5 seconds, return your head to center, and repeat on the left side. Do 5-10 reps of each movement. Go slowly and gently.
For this stretch, sit or stand upright with your arms relaxed at your sides. Take your right hand and grasp the side of your head, gently pulling it toward your right shoulder. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and relax. Repeat on the left side, again holding for up to 30 seconds. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed rather than hunched up by your ears during the stretch.
Tightness in the chest muscles can also contribute to neck stiffness. The chest opener stretch focuses on the chest to relieve tension. Stand in a doorway or corner with your upper arms at shoulder height, forearms against the wall or door frame. Lean your body weight forward until you feel a comfortable stretch in your chest and front shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds, relax, and repeat a few times. For less intense stretching, keep your feet back from the wall rather than leaning all the way forward with your whole body.
Behind the Head Stretch
This move opens the front of the shoulders to reduce discomfort that radiates into the neck. Sit or stand with upright posture. Lift your right arm and bend it so your hand reaches behind your head toward your upper back. Use your left hand to grasp your right elbow and gently pull on it to increase the stretch through your shoulder. Hold for 20-30 seconds then switch sides. Repeat 2-3 times on each side.
Chin to Chest
A simple way to stretch the back of the neck is to bend the neck forward toward the chest. Sit up straight in a chair. Looking straight ahead, lower your chin toward your chest until you feel a mild to moderate stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for 20 seconds. Bring your head back to neutral. Repeat 2-3 times. Avoid rounding your shoulders forward during this stretch in order to isolate the neck muscles.
While stretching can help find relief when a stiff neck occurs, there are also some steps you can take to potentially prevent neck soreness in the first place. Maintaining proper posture while sitting and standing is important to reduce strain on the neck over time. Be mindful not to hunch or hold the neck forward for prolonged periods. Regular exercise that strengthens the neck muscles can also help prevent painful neck stiffness. Activities like chin tucks and shoulder rolls described above can be done as part of a routine warm-up. Finally, managing stress levels may help decrease neck tension since people often subconsciously clench muscles when feeling stressed.
When to See a Doctor
For the majority of cases, consistent stretching and over-the-counter pain medication will alleviate a stiff neck within a few days. However, you should consult your doctor if the pain is severe, persists longer than 1-2 weeks, or is accompanied by other symptoms like headache, nausea, or fever. Seek prompt medical care if you experience loss of coordination, weakness in the arms or legs, or loss of bladder or bowel control which may indicate a more serious health issue. Otherwise, try the easy at-home stretches in this article to find relief from a bothersome stiff neck.