In this article, I am going to share with you how to relieve tight neck muscles. I explain to my patients the common causes of neck tension, stretches to release neck and shoulder tension, and at last how one can sleep more comfortably with neck pain.
Let’s get started with how to relieve tight neck muscles
Neck muscles help support the cervical spine and contribute to movements of the head, neck, upper back, and shoulders.
There are numerous other muscles connected to the neck, which all work in concert with tendons (connect muscles to bones) and ligaments (connect bones to bones). If a neck muscle is strained, it can become painful, tight, and possibly lead to a stiff neck. There are many possible reasons why you may be experiencing neck tension.
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Common causes of neck tension
- Repetitive motion: People who work in occupations that require them to perform repetitive movements.
- Poor posture: When the average weight of the head isn’t properly supported by good posture, the neck muscles are forced to work harder than they should.
- The computer: Many people spend their entire day behind a computer. Hunching over the computer isn’t a natural position for the body.
- The phone: Whether you’re holding it between your ear and shoulder at work, or are hunched over it playing games and checking social media at home, the phone is a common cause of poor neck posture.
- Exercise and sports: Lifting weights in a way that engages the neck muscles, or whipping your head around during a sports game, physical activity is a common cause of minor neck injury and strain.
- Poor sleep position: Sleeping with large pillows that elevate your neck too much can cause tension to build up while you sleep.
- Heavy bags: Carrying heavy bags, especially those with straps going over your shoulder, can throw your body out of balance.
- Stress: When you’re stressed, you may inadvertently tense up and strain the muscles in your neck. Neck tension stress affects many people.
- Trauma: When you’re injured, such as in a car accident or fall, you may experience whiplash.
- Tension headaches: Tension headaches are mild to moderate dull headaches that typically affect the forehead. While neck tension can cause tension headaches, tension headaches can also cause neck pain and tenderness.
Stretches to Release Neck and Shoulder Tension
To relieve tight neck muscles, you can try a series of stretches. There are many yoga poses that may benefit your neck and shoulder.
To target the neck and shoulder muscles directly, consider the following stretches:
Seated neck stretch (Most effective stretch to relieve tight neck muscles)
- Sit in a comfortable seated position, either cross-legged on the floor or in a chair with your feet able to touch the ground.
- Place your left hand under your bottom and your right hand on top of your head.
- Gently pull your head to the right, so that your ear is almost touching your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Chin to chest stretch
- Sitting cross-legged on the floor, clasp your hands on top of your head, elbows pointing outward.
- Gently pull your chin to your chest and hold for 30 seconds.
Cheek push stretch
- From a sitting or standing position, place your right hand on your right cheek.
- Turning to look over your left shoulder, gently push your right cheek as far as you can and focus your gaze on a spot behind you.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Seated shoulder stretch
- Reps: 2–4; Hold: 10–30 seconds
- Starting position: Sit up straight on a chair. Put your left hand on your right shoulder. Cup your left elbow with your right hand.
- Movement: Roll your shoulders down and back, then gently pull your left elbow across your chest as you extend your left arm. Feel the stretch in your left shoulder. Hold. Return to the starting position, then repeat on the opposite side. This is one rep.
Seated triceps stretch
- Reps: 2–4; Hold: 10–30 seconds
- Starting position: Sit up straight. Place your right hand on your right shoulder. Clasp your right elbow with your left hand.
- Movement: Keeping your shoulders down and back, lift your right elbow up toward the ceiling to the point of tightness. Feel the stretch in the back of your upper right arm and shoulder. Hold. Return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. This is one rep.
Seated chest stretch
- Reps: 2–4; Hold: 10–30 seconds
- Starting position: Sit up straight facing sideways in a chair without arms.
- Movement: Roll your shoulders down and back. Clasp your hands behind you, intertwining your fingers so your palms face you. Gently lift your hands toward the ceiling to the point of tightness. Feel the stretch in the front of your shoulders and across your chest. Hold. Slowly return to the starting position.
How should I sleep with Neck Pain
- If you usually sleep on your stomach, try sleeping on your side or back instead.
- If you sleep on your side, try putting a pillow between your legs. This can help keep your neck aligned with your spine.
- When sleeping on your side, make sure the pillow isn’t higher under your head than it is under your neck. Straining your muscles even a little during the night can cause soreness by morning.
- Try using a feather pillow, which can conform easily to the shape of your neck and head. Feather pillows tend to lose their shape over time, so it’s best to replace them every year or two.
- Pillows made with “memory foam” can also conform to the contours of your head and neck, and can help keep your neck supported.
- Avoid using a pillow that is too stiff or too deep. This can cause your neck muscles to be flexed overnight.
- If your mattress is sagging in the middle, consider replacing it with a medium-firm mattress that can support your back and neck.
- During the day, try to maintain proper posture when standing, walking, and sitting, particularly when at a desk or using a computer. Avoid hunching your shoulders and bending your neck too far forward.
- Try to hold your phone at eye level instead of bending your neck forward to look at it.
- Avoid tucking your phone between your ear and your shoulder.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help strengthen your muscles, including those in your neck. It can also help improve your posture and relieve stress that may be causing stiff muscles.
Waking up with a sore neck is a common problem. But there are ways to help resolve this issue.
Consider making changes to your pillow, mattress, and sleeping position, and make sure your sleeping environment is as comfortable as possible.
During the day, pay attention to your posture and try to shift your position often so your muscles stay relaxed and limber. Regular exercise can also help keep your neck muscles healthy and strong.
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