Exercises to Alleviate Stiff Neck: A Step-by-Step Guide

Waking up with a stiff neck can put a real damper on your day. Limited range of motion in your neck makes daily activities difficult and painful. While medications like NSAIDs or muscle relaxers may provide some relief, performing targeted exercises and stretches offers a more natural way to find lasting neck pain relief.

In this step-by-step guide, you’ll discover several simple yet effective exercises to alleviate a stiff, sore neck at home. With a little time and consistency, these neck exercises can loosen tight muscles, improve mobility, and prevent future neck stiffness.

Apply Heat

Before exercising a stiff neck, it helps to apply a warm compress or take a warm shower to boost blood flow and relax tight muscles. Drape a hot towel around your neck for 5-10 minutes or take a 5 minute hot shower, focusing the spray on your neck and shoulders. The heat will prime your neck muscles for the stretches ahead.

Neck Rotations

This beginner exercise engages your neck through its full range of motion. Sit or stand with shoulders down and head facing forward. Slowly turn your head toward your right shoulder as far as comfortably possible. Hold for 5 seconds. Return your head to center. Repeat on the left side, again holding for 5 seconds. Do 5-10 rotations per side. Go slowly; don’t force your neck past the point of tension. The gentle motion lubricates neck joints while warming muscles.

Shoulder Rolls

For this easy move that relieves upper back and neck tightness, start seated or standing with arms at your sides. Inhale and raise your shoulders up toward your ears. Exhale and roll your shoulders backward in big circular motions. Complete 5-10 rolls and then reverse direction. Use the full range of motion and make circles as large as possible. Shoulder rolls reduce tension in your upper trapezius muscles between your neck and shoulders.

Neck Stretches

Simple neck stretches can do wonders for a stiff, immobile neck. For an easy forward neck stretch, sit upright and gently pull your chin toward your chest until you feel a mild stretch. Hold for 20 seconds. Next, tilt your head to the right until you feel a stretch on the left side of your neck. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side. Finish by gently rolling your head in a circle 2-3 times. These stretches elongate tight neck muscles.

Chin Tucks

This exercise strengthens the muscles at the back of your neck. Sit or stand with back straight and shoulders down. Draw your chin straight back, pulling your head directly between your shoulders without tipping or tilting. You should feel a mild stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 5-10 times. Chin tucks improve posture and counteract the effects of poor head position.

Wall Angels

Stand with your back against a wall and feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your chin tucked and back flat against the wall. Slowly slide your arms up overhead as far as you can while maintaining contact with the wall. Slide back down and repeat 10 times. Wall angels open your chest muscles to take pressure off your neck. Work up to holding your arms overhead for a count of 5.

Doorway Stretch

This stretch lengthens the side muscles of your neck. Stand in a doorway with feet together. Grip each side of the door frame at shoulder height. Keeping your neck long, gently pull your chest through the doorway until you feel a mild to moderate stretch on one side of your neck. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Turn your head and repeat on the opposite side. The door frame gives you something to gently push against for a solid neck stretch.

Daily neck exercises can make a huge difference in reducing neck stiffness and pain. Aim to do a full routine like the one described here for 5-10 minutes daily. Pay attention to posture and body mechanics throughout your day as well. With consistency, you’ll move your neck freely and prevent future bouts of neck stiffness.