We’ve all experienced that annoying tightness or discomfort in our neck after a bad night’s sleep or a day hunched over a screen. A neck stretch is the way to fix it… right?
Not exactly. If you want long-term solutions to and prevention of neck stiffness and discomfort, focus on more than just your neck, says Laura Miranda, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., based in New York. a physical therapist and trainer says to SELF.
“You have to address the whole system,” he said. “That means your cervical spine, your neck, your thoracic spine [mid-back].”
To relieve this tension, you must first understand what may be causing your neck discomfort.
In fact, there are several things that can cause that area to malfunction, causing that all-too-familiar feeling of tightness and stiffness across your shoulders. Improper positioning is a big one, Miranda said. This causes your head, shoulders, and mid-back to pull forward, which tries to pull back the muscles in that area. As a result, they begin to tighten and tighten.
Shallow breathing is another factor in neck discomfort, says Miranda. When people are particularly stressed, there are people who breathe from the chest, or breathe shallowly, relying on additional breathing muscles such as the upper trapezius and chest muscles rather than the diaphragm.
“The muscles in the neck and shoulders become overworked, the muscles tighten, and your stiffness gets worse,” says Miranda.
If you have a tight or stiff neck, it’s important to sit and stand in the same position (ribs over pelvis, head over ribs) and breathe through your diaphragm. But after that, stretching plays an important role.
The best neck stretches don’t just target your neck, they include both static and dynamic options. We might think of neck stretches as something you’re holding onto, but range-based movement plays a very important role, says Miranda. They help your body take the correct posture you learned while stretching statically and apply it to movement.
For most cases of simple neck pain, stiffness, or discomfort, neck stretches like the one below can help relieve stiffness and help you feel better. If you experience more worrisome symptoms, such as numbness or tingling in your neck, arms, or limbs, contact your doctor or physical therapist to see if there is a more serious cause for your neck pain.
What you’ll need: A yoga or exercise mat and looped resistance bands for relaxation.
Seated Buckle Neck Stretch
Upper trapezius stretch
Insert the needle
Behind the back drill
Hold each static stretch for at least 30 seconds, or take 5-8 deep, diaphragmatic breaths in and out, and perform dynamic movements for the specified time.
Los Angeles-based mother of six, certified personal trainer and fitness outfit owner Hejira Nitoto (photos 1, 3, 6); Shauna Harrison (photo 4), Bay Area-based trainer, yogi, public health academic, advocate and columnist for SELF; and Caitlin Seitz, a New York-based fitness instructor, singer, and songwriter (figures 2 and 5).