It’s easy for tension to build up in your neck and shoulders. Many of us spend hours hunched over computers and looking down at phones, putting strain on those muscle groups. Stress and anxiety contribute as well, causing us to hunch our shoulders and tighten our necks. Left unchecked, this tension can lead to chronic pain, headaches, poor posture, and decreased mobility. Fortunately, there are many techniques you can use throughout your day to actively relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders.
Start your day by stretching as soon as you get out of bed. While still lying down, turn your head side to side to gently stretch your neck. Bring one ear down towards your shoulder, hold for a few seconds, then switch sides. Next, interlace your fingers and push your palms up towards the ceiling to fully extend your arms and open up your shoulders. You can also roll your shoulders forward and backward a few times. This quick morning sequence will get your muscles moving and prepare them for the day ahead.
Pay attention to your posture as you go about your regular activities. Make a conscious effort to draw your shoulders down and back while keeping your chin level. Imagine a string pulling straight up from the crown of your head towards the ceiling to keep your spine elongated. Also be aware of tension creeping into your shoulders and make an effort to relax them down throughout the day. Setting reminders on your phone or work computer can help remind you to check your posture and release any tension.
Take regular stretch breaks if you sit for long periods. Every 30-60 minutes take 2 minutes to stand up and move around. Rotate your neck slowly, raising and lowering your chin. Roll your shoulders up, back, and down. You can also raise your arms straight up overhead with palms together, then lean side to side to stretch your sides. Stretches like this done regularly throughout the day can stop tension before it builds up.
Use props like cushions and rolls to open up your upper back.Lie on your back and place a cushion or firmly rolled towel under your upper back, letting your head gently fall back. The cushion will help arch your thoracic spine, stretching tight muscles. You can place your arms out to the side in a T shape to broaden through your chest and shoulders as well. Hold this stretch for 1-2 minutes, breathing deeply. You can also stand in a corner and place a tennis or massage ball between your upper back and shoulder blades. Lean back into the ball and roll it around to massage away knots.
Heat is an effective way to relax tense muscles. Try taking a warm shower and directing the spray right onto your neck and shoulders. The pulsing warmth can release held tension. You can also fill a sock with rice, tie off the end, and microwave it for 1-2 minutes to create a DIY heating pad. Make sure it isn’t too hot before applying it to your neck for soothing relief.
Massage the area to increase blood flow. You can use a handheld massager or tennis ball against the wall, or ask someone to rub your neck and shoulders. Use circular thumbs presses and long gliding strokes along the muscles. Target points of tightness for extra attention, using firm but not painful pressure. A few minutes of massage makes a big difference in releasing chronic tension.
Consider trying yoga stretches like the cow and cat pose. Get on all fours, then drop your belly down as you look up and arch your back like a cat. Switch to cow pose by lifting your chest, dropping your belly, and looking down. Moving back and forth stretches your full back while also mobilizing your neck. Downward facing dog similarly stretches the shoulders and neck gently. Hold these poses for a few slow breaths. Yoga increases flexibility and circulation.
No matter how busy your day, make time before bed to fully stretch out your neck and shoulders. Lie on your back and gently tilt your head side to side. Bring one ear down towards your shoulder and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Gently turn your head to look over each shoulder as well. Finally, interlace your hands behind your head and straighten your elbows out to the sides to open your chest and shoulders. Deep breathing during these stretches promotes full relaxation.
By incorporating these techniques throughout your daily routine, you can keep tension from accumulating in your neck and shoulders. Pay attention to posture, take regular stretch breaks, use props like cushions or balls, apply heat, get massages, do targeted exercises like yoga, and unwind fully before bed. Making time to actively relax your upper body will keep you feeling your best.