A stiff neck is a common problem that affects millions of people every day. If you suffer from neck pain, you might want to try some simple exercises to relieve the stiffness and discomfort.
Stiff necks occur when muscles become tight or tense. This causes the head to tilt forward or backward, resulting in pressure on the nerves that run through the neck.
The pain can range from mild to severe and can last for several days. Whether it's from sleeping uncomfortably, craning your neck while you read, or even just from stress, having a stiff and sore neck can make it hard to get on with your day.
Exercise is important for maintaining good health. In addition to helping you stay fit and strong, exercise also helps reduce stress levels.
Doing the right exercises can help you loosen up the muscles in your neck to stop it from feeling stiff and sore.
In this guide, we'll take you through some of the best exercises you can use for a stiff neck. Try these simple exercises to loosen up your neck and ease the tension.
What Causes A Stiff Neck?
Before taking a look at how to deal with a sore neck, it's important to know what might be causing it in the first place. There are many factors that could contribute to a stiff neck, including:
Sleep position - Sleeping on your back may cause your neck to feel stiff as your body tries to keep your head upright. You should sleep on your side if possible, since this will allow your neck to relax naturally.
Poor posture - Slouching during the day can lead to poor posture which can result in a stiff neck. Craning your neck to read, look at screens, or even just slouching naturally can put stress on your neck muscles, making them stiff and sore.
Tight clothing - Wearing clothes that are too small or don't fit properly can put unnecessary strain on your neck. Shirts and jackets with too-small necks or that are too heavy will make stiffness worse.
Tight muscles - Excessive muscle tension can cause your neck to tighten up and become stiff. Some exercises like deadlift and spinning involve unnatural posture that can lead to neck pain, especially without a proper warm-up/cool-down.
Injury - An injury to your neck such as whiplash or a car accident can leave you with a stiff neck, and often cause long-term neck stiffness and pain.
These are just some ways a stiff and sore neck can occur, and there are many other reasons why you might be experiencing discomfort in your neck muscles.
Sometimes there isn't even a specific cause, and general tiredness and day-to-day activities can make your neck stiff.
The Best Exercises For A Stiff Neck
Now that we've covered some ways a stiff neck can come about, let's take a look at the best ways to loosen up your neck muscles to reduce stiffness and pain.
1. Neck Stretch
This is one of the best stretches for sore muscles in your neck area.
To start off, lie down on your back and place both hands behind your head. Then gently pull your head backward until you feel comfortable.
You should be able to stretch out your entire neck without any resistance.
Hold this position for 10-15 seconds before slowly returning to the starting position. Repeat this 3 times.
Doing this will help to loosen up the muscles in your neck by applying gentle amounts of tension.
It also helps straighten and align your vertebrae, which is perfect if your neck stiffness is down to sleeping in a strange position.
2. Neck Rotations
Lie down on the floor on your back, and bend your knees slightly. Now turn your head to one side and lift it as high as possible.
After holding this position for 5-10 seconds, return to the starting position. Do this three times in each direction.
It's important not to twist your head too rapidly or at odd angles, as this can make your neck pain worse.
Don't try to push it if you feel painful resistance while turning your head; try massaging the stiff area to relax the muscles, and see if you can turn it now.
3. Neck Flexion/Extension
Sit upright in a chair and place your palms flat against the armrests. Slowly lean forwards and then backward as far as you comfortably can.
Hold for 5-10 seconds before returning to the starting position and repeating the movement in the opposite direction.
This exercise loosens up your neck muscles and improves range of motion. Try doing this two or three times per day.
4. Neck Twists
Stand facing away from a wall, and hold onto it with your left hand.
Turn your head towards the right and rotate it clockwise so that your ear is touching the wall.
Keep rotating your head until you reach 90 degrees, then stop.
Return to the starting position and repeat counterclockwise. After this, put your right hand on the wall and repeat the process again.
This doesn't just help to loosen your neck, but also relaxes your muscles to reduce overall tension.
5. Neck Tilt
Standing upright with your eyes forward, tilt your head forward until your chin touches your chest.
Hold this position for 10-15 seconds before returning to the original position. From there, do the same while tilting your head backward.
Repeat on both your left and right side, keeping your eyes facing forward. This is great for reducing muscle spasms and improving blood flow to the brain.
6. Neck Massage
If you're feeling particularly stiff after lying in bed all night, give yourself a massage! Simply use your fingers to knead the areas around your neck.
Aim for circular motions where your neck meets your shoulders, and kneading movements along the back of your neck. This will release tightness and increase circulation.
Be careful not to press hard, however, as this could make your pain even worse. Depending on where you're feeling the most stiffness, it might be easier to get someone else to massage your neck for you.
7. Shoulder Rolls
Standing upright, raise your shoulders up like you're shrugging and move them forward in a circular motion.
Don't go too fast as this will tense up your muscles even more, and repeat the motion 10 times. After 10 repetitions, do the same again going backward.
This helps to loosen your shoulder muscles and improve mobility in that area. It also helps to improve your posture and push your shoulders back, reducing the amount you slouch.
What Else Can I Do To Treat A Stiff Neck?
If these exercises alone aren't enough to help with your neck stiffness, then you might need to supplement them with other treatments. The following are some common alternatives:
1. Heat Therapy
Heat therapy involves applying heat directly to the affected area. You can either apply heat using an electric heating pad, or wrap hot water bottles around your neck.
Both methods have been shown to loosen and soothe muscles. You could also use a gel that warms and reduces muscle swelling.
While they aren't typically used to treat muscle stiffness, some painkillers have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the swelling in your neck muscles that is causing them to be stiff and sore.
Not all kinds of painkillers do this, and you should only use painkillers if your neck stiffness is causing you significant pain and discomfort.
Don't take painkillers if you aren't in pain and don't need them, and always make sure to stick to the advised dose.
3. Switching Sleep Position
As we mentioned earlier, sleeping in an uncomfortable position can cause your neck to become stiff overnight.
You can avoid or reduce the risk of a stiff neck in these cases by changing the way you sleep.
This could mean sleeping on your side instead of your back, or changing the number of pillows you use to make sure your neck gets the support it needs.
If your mattress or pillow is too soft/hard, this can also be the cause, so try using a different firmness to see if that helps.
Stiffness and pain in the neck can be hard to deal with. Luckily, by using the techniques in this guide you can reduce and even completely remove the strain and stress your neck is put under.
With these exercises, you can loosen your neck and shoulder muscles, improve your posture and mobility, and give your neck muscles a much-needed break.
Best of all, all the exercises in this list are easy and quick to do, so you don't need to disrupt your daily schedule just to treat the stiffness in your neck!
Feeling comfortable and pain-free is important, and helps improve your mood, productivity, and motivation (along with plenty of other benefits).
While neck pain and stiffness can make it feel like the world is weighing on your shoulders, by using the right techniques and exercises alongside other forms of treatment, you can look forward to a relaxed and pain-free neck in the future!