NECK MUSCLE STRETCHING - WHEN & HOW
You need to get a medical clearance first, before attempting the neck muscle stretching described here.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis affecting your neck, certain vital ligaments may have been weakened.
With severe osteoarthritis here, nerves and the spinal cord (brain) itself can be pressed on by bony knobs or bulging discs.
Here a CT scan or MRI will show narrowed neural foraminae or spinal stenosis respectively, loss of the fat and fluid which normally surround the nervous structures, and deformation of same.
When doing any neck stretch, giddiness, nausea or tingling (or any other odd sensation) are all good reasons for you to stop immediately.
this other page
before doing any neck muscle stretches.
If you can hear a crunching noise in your neck when you move it, any stretches will need to be prescribed by your physiotherapist.
Mobilizing any tight joints may need to be done individually, to avoid further stretching
Sometimes I get people to wear a soft neck collar (brace) for a week, to allow a crunching joint to stiffen up through inactivity.
I have caused this occasionally when I have stretched up a joint in someone's osteoarthritic neck, but have not seen it from people doing self neck stretching.
This is different to the fine crackling noise on neck movement you may hear after such a treatment.
When a joint is stiff, the gristle loses water. On moving again, this water returns, over a few hours.
Until then, the movement may be noisy.
Value of neck muscle stretching
These neck muscle stretching exercises are however, often able to completely stop recurrent headaches and neck pain, as well as relieving upper back and neck pain.
They are a very useful part of arthritis neck pain treatment, and as well, as of thoracic spine problems.
How to do it - stretching your neck forwards
There is a page on
muscle stretching in general
in the knee pain section of this site.
This first neck stretch is done by placing the clasped hands on the back of your head, just above your neck, when you are bent over forward.
Now shrug your shoulders up to your ears, then let them down as far as they will go. Do this a couple of times to loosen up your shoulders. Each time you let them down, see if they will go lower again.
In this position, the weight of the arms is being supported by your neck.
Tuck your chin into your chest and bend your head down as much as you can. Do not pull down with your hands, but just let the arms be a dead weight, hanging loosely. Keep your jaw closed as much as possible but teeth not touching. Your lower teeth may sit behind or in front of the upper teeth, to give more space to bend your head down.
You use your neck and tummy muscles to pull your head and upper chest down.
You can actually lift your hands slightly off your head, while you push the shoulders as far down as possible. This ensures that you don't actively pull down on your head while doing it.
Otherwise, the feeling of pressure between your fingers and scalp, should remain relatively constant rather than obviously increase.
In this position you are likely to feel pain or discomfort somewhere between your forehead and your shoulder blades. Note exactly where this is.
Continue the stretch for a minute if there is initially no pain. The pain may be delayed or you may simply feel tight discomfort.
If on the other hand, this hurts too much, you may be able to tolerate just hanging your head in the same position, without the extra weight of your arms.
Alternatively, it may be better to try when you have taken pain relieving medication.
How long to continue the stretch
It will probably take about two minutes for the tightest muscle fibers to relax and stretch.
The head will then drop but probably not enough for you to notice it. This will now cause the next tightest muscle fibers to take the main stretch.
The pain is now coming from different muscle fibers, and may be felt in a different place.
While the pain or localized discomfort is shifting around, one bit of muscle after another, is relaxing.
I encourage people to continue this neck muscle stretch for at least two minutes, and preferably longer.
Generally, pain between your shoulder blades or in your head, will retreat back to your neck during the course of the stretching session. Pain shifting back towards it's source, is a sign of improvement. The worse it is, the further it spreads.
Ideally, if your hands can stand it, eventually do it until all the sharp neck pain or point discomfort goes.
More instructions for neck muscle streching
People often need reminding to relax their shoulders while doing this stretch. Push your shoulders downwards, but do not pull down on your head. Just use the weight of your arms. It is natural to try to reduce the pain by lifting them, but “no pain no gain.”
While doing this stretch, if you feel a sneeze or cough coming on, immediately lift the weight of your hands off your head.
Do not attempt to rapidly lift your head.
During the stretch, if the pain is well out to one side of your neck and very mild, it may be possible to speed up the process.
You could try pushing your head slightly towards the side opposite to that paining, while maintaining the same downward stretch. If the pain increases and is still easily tolerated, you may now be stretching more muscle fibers.
The last technique can be tried when you have continued the forward stretch until all pain has ceased.
If new pain is now produced on the side being stretched, extra useful stretching is happening.
If this manoeuvre causes pain on the side you have pushed your head over to, shift your head in the other direction to do the stretch.
Similarly, if during the stretch, the pain or point discofort shifts to the side you have moved towards, it may be better to move your head across to the other side to more effectively stretch that spot.
This will probably not be on the first occasion you stretch your neck.
Slowly push your head progressively further to the side. If pain reappears in any position, just wait there until it goes.
Another movement you can add to the same forward neck stretch, is to rotate your head on your neck. In this bent forward position, your face then moves to right or left, and the back of your head to the opposite side.
Always maintain the same downwards stretch and rotate slowly, stopping at any position causing pain, until it goes again.
If there is slight pain on one side at the top of your neck, it may be more effective to use a different rotation of your head, than to push it to the opposite side.
Imagine your nose as the fulcrum, and move the top of your head to the opposite side, your chin to the side of the pain.
Your face is not turning to either side, but stays looking pretty much straight down.
If one of these actions increases the pain, you are stretching another tight muscle.
When all pain has finally ceased, it may help to gently, loosely do these movements from side to side repeatedly. This may loosen up a joint and allow one to stretch a new muscle (if something starts to hurt after the wobbling action.)
At the end of neck muscle stretching sessions
Never straighten your head up quickly. Always take a few seconds to lift up your head and then make little movements, rotating from side to side a few times.
The immediate effect of this stretch may be a sore neck, but the pain is very likely to have retreated from your forehead or between the shoulder blades, during the stretch. This was “referred pain.”
The net effect should be headache relief and increased flexibility of your neck.
For myself, I find it best to go straight from this forward neck muscle stretching to a rotation stretch, at the one session....
More useful neck muscle stretching for your sore neck.
From neck muscle stretching to rhomboid muscle stretching
Avoiding the need for neck muscle stretching
It's different strokes for different folks, or if you prefer, horses for courses.
It's worth checking yourself for
, as this is a common reason for tight neck muscles.
Your neck muscles may be tight because of
stress or hypoglycemia.
You may be spending too much time bending over your work, and need to set it up differently. My set up involves
a kneeling chair and sloped desk top.