Have you ever experienced tightness and pain in your neck and shoulders after a long day at work?
Chances are, you are experiencing neck and shoulder pain, which affects 10 - 36% of Americans.
Despite the prevalence, most people think that stretching the neck and shoulder from time to time does more than enough to alleviate the pain, but how true is that?
Stretching merely relieves the symptoms but doesn’t treat the root cause. To reduce and prevent neck and shoulder pain, it’s imperative to understand what causes the pain, what the signs are, and how to relieve and prevent it.
You’ll learn 6 best neck and shoulder exercises and stretches to ease the pain and simple ways to reduce and prevent the pain from reoccurring.
What Causes Neck And Shoulder Pain?
Well, how do you know if you have neck and shoulder pain, to begin with?
The following are signs and symptoms that you should look out for:
- Pain in the neck and shoulder. The pain may feel crampy, burning, sore, stabbing, stiff, tingling, or pulsating.
- Difficult to move your head
But what could be causing the pain?
One or more of the following could be the cause of your neck and shoulder pain:
- Soft tissue injury, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Usually, soft tissue injury occurs when tissues are overexerted during sports and exercise activities or strained due to repetitive motions such as typing.
- Long hours of hunching and looking downward.
- Arthritis, a condition where one or more of your joints are swelling up, also known as joint inflammation.
- Whiplash, the tearing of soft tissues from a sudden movement of the neck. Usually occurs in a collision.
- Wear and tear of the spinal discs.
- Nerves in the neck are ‘pinched’ when too much pressure is applied to a nerve. This can be caused by stress from repetitive movement.
- Poor sitting and sleeping position, for instance:
- Sleeping on too high a pillow
- Clenching your teeth at night
- Working in poor ergonomics, i.e, sitting at a computer with your neck strained forward or tilted too high or low
- Suddenly jerking your neck during exercise.
Neck pain, in particular, affects over 60% of knowledge workers because they spend the majority of their waking hours sitting in front of computers in ways that could stress the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
But, don’t worry. We have 6 simple and short neck and shoulder exercises and stretches for you whenever the pain creeps in.
6 Exercises and Stretches To Relieve Tension In Neck And Shoulders
If, at any moment, you experience pain that goes beyond mild discomfort when performing one of the exercises below, stop immediately.
Also, consult your doctor if the pain doesn’t improve after two weeks of stretching or if you have medical conditions that could be affected.
1. Side-to-Side Head Tilt
Head tilts can help relieve tension in the neck and shoulders.
- Start by standing or sitting straight.
- Slowly tilt your head toward one side of the shoulder and try to touch the shoulder with your ear. If it’s nowhere near, it’s okay.
- Hold for 5 seconds and return to the position in Step 1.
- Gently tilt to the other side and repeat.
- Do this 5 - 8 times on each side.
2. 4 Directional Head Tilt
- Start by standing or sitting straight.
- Gently tilt your head up and down 3 - 5 times.
- Look from left to right 3 - 5 times.
3. Across-The-Chest Arm Stretch
This exercise helps to increase the range of motion in your shoulder joint and flexibility. If you feel pain during this exercise, lower your arm a little.
- Stand or sit straight
- Bring your left arm across your chest.
- Place the left arm in the crease of your right elbow and gently press it into the chest.
- Hold for 1 minute.
- Repeat on the right side.
- Do each side 3 - 5 times.
Tip: When holding the position, ensure the arm across the chest is straight and the palm is opened wide, facing the back.
4. Back Shoulder Stretch
This stretch increases your flexibility and loosens the tension in your front and back shoulders.
- Stand or sit straight. If you’re sitting, ensure you have at least half an arm’s length in between your back and the chair.
- Interlock your fingers behind you, as if you’re pinching a pencil with your shoulder blades.
- Gently push your arms up until you feel resistance in your shoulders. If your arms hit the chair, switch to a standing position.
- Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Relieving neck and shoulder pain is not just about stretching the affected parts. Did you know our neck and shoulders are closely connected to our spine? In other words, stretching your spine also helps to relieve neck and shoulder pain. Cat-Cow is an excellent yet simple way to take care of your spine and softly strengthens the abdominal organs.
- Start with your hands and knees on the floor, hands directly below the shoulders and knees below your hips.
- Place your knees hip-width apart.
- Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze or close your eyes.
- Begin by moving into Cow pose: inhale as you drop your belly towards the floor. Lift your chin and open your chest, and look upward.
- Hold this for 3 - 5 seconds. Draw your shoulders away from your ears.
- Next, move into Cat pose: exhale and round your back. You should feel a good stretch in your spine. Move your chin toward the chest and gaze at your knees.
- Inhale and go back to Cow pose, and exhale as you move into Cat pose.
- Repeat moving from Cat to Cow poses 5 - 10 times.
6. Sumo Squat Stretch
This exercise gives a good stretch for your spine and helps strengthen the leg muscles.
- Start with standing with your feet wider than your hip.
- Drop until your knees are at about a 90-degree angle. Ensure the knees are not over the foot. If it is, widen your stance.
- Place both of your hands on your knees.
- Start tilting one shoulder to the front and hold for 3 - 5 seconds.
- Change to the other shoulder and hold.
- Repeat 5 - 10 times on each side.
How To Prevent Neck and Shoulder Pain
Still, prevention is better than cure. Stretches are one of many ways to prevent further damage to your neck and shoulders.
You can try incorporating one or more of the following suggestions into your daily routine.
- Sit in a correct posture
- Sleep in a correct posture
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water. Why? When your spinal discs are well hydrated, they’re less likely to degenerate and in turn can help prevent neck and shoulder pain.
- Stretch regularly, preferably once every 1 hour of sitting
- Exercise regularly to strengthen the joints and muscles. Stronger tissues can protect themselves better from wear and tear.
While neck and shoulder pain is common, it can be prevented and treated when you do the stretches regularly.
Other than stretching, you can also cultivate one or more of the simple prevention methods like sitting and sleeping in a correct posture or keeping yourself hydrated to improve your well-being while working from home.