6 Stretches Physical Therapists Say You Should Try If You Have Neck Pain

Stretching can help increase blood flow, reduce stiffness, improve flexibility, and relax muscles. Relieve your neck pain with these PT-recommended stretches.

6 Stretches Physical Therapists Say You Should Try If You Have Neck Pain

Stretching can help increase blood flow, reduce stiffness, improve flexibility, and relax muscles. Relieve your neck pain with these PT-recommended stretches.

6 Stretches Physical Therapists Say You Should Try If You Have Neck Pain

Stretching can help increase blood flow, reduce stiffness, improve flexibility, and relax muscles. Relieve your neck pain with these PT-recommended stretches.

6 Stretches Physical Therapists Say You Should Try If You Have Neck Pain

Stretching can help increase blood flow, reduce stiffness, improve flexibility, and relax muscles. Relieve your neck pain with these PT-recommended stretches.

Table of Contents

The list of reasons your neck may be hurting is long. Sitting at a computer all day. Stress. Carrying a heavy bag. Sleeping in the wrong position. Anxiety. Reading for hours. Trying a new type of exercise. Staring at your cell phone. The list goes on and on.  

With all of these contributors to neck pain, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most common types of musculoskeletal pain, and it can put a real crimp in your day. It might impact your productivity at work or your ability to do household chores. Driving can become more difficult when you can’t turn your head as easily. Neck pain may also keep you awake at night if you can’t find a comfortable position.

But whether your pain is related to your job, daily activities, or normal changes in the spine, there’s one easy way you can help reduce neck stiffness and pain: stretching. Here, find out how stretching alleviates neck tension and stiffness, and get PT-recommended stretches for neck pain relief.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Kristin Vinci, PT, DPT
Physical Therapy
Dr. Vinci is a Hinge Health physical therapist with a special interest in orthopedics, persistent pain, and mindfulness based stress reduction.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

Why Your Neck Hurts  

Unfortunately, no one is immune to neck pain. In fact, up to 80% of people will experience neck pain at some point in their lives.

While an injury (e.g., whiplash) or a condition like osteoarthritis can certainly contribute to neck pain, it can also be influenced by daily activities. Perhaps the most common culprit? Staying in one position for too long. “It could be related to your work, driving in your car, or simply sleeping,” says Kristin Vinci, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “These are times of the day when people tend to be in the same position for a long period of time. And that can really bother the neck for some people.” 

Positions like looking down at a phone or tablet are particularly problematic. Your head weighs 10 to 12 pounds. When it’s flexed or tilted and not resting atop your spine, your neck muscles have to work harder to hold it up. While that certainly says a lot about the strength of your neck, those muscles can get tired and sore if they’re not given some TLC every once in a while. And one of the simplest ways to do this is through stretching. 

How Does Stretching Reduce Neck Tension?

Stretching is a non-invasive remedy that can help to effectively alleviate neck pain without medication or surgery. “Stretching can help relax muscles and decrease neck stiffness,” says Dr. Vinci. “It also increases blood flow and circulation to the muscles and can bring down nerve sensitivity that you often feel when you have pain or tension.”

Tight neck muscles put stress on the cervical spine, the seven vertebrae (bones) at the base of the skull and the nerves in that area. Increasing flexibility in neck muscles takes some pressure off these joints and improves its range of motion. “When our muscles move better, our joints can often move better, too,” Dr. Vinci says. Better neck mobility also helps you hold yourself in a more comfortable position as you go about your day so your neck muscles don’t have to work so hard, preventing discomfort and pain.

Physical Therapist-Recommended Stretches for Neck Pain

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This stretch works by gently elongating the muscles on the side of your neck. This can help alleviate neck tension and pain, and also increase flexibility and range of motion.

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These easy stretches recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists can help reduce muscle tension, increase blood flow, and improve flexibility to reduce neck pain. Practice these moves in a comfortable range of motion — they shouldn’t aggravate your pain. You can start by doing them at least three times a week and work up to doing them daily if you find them helpful. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Keep Active to Keep Neck Pain at Bay 

When it comes to managing neck pain, stretching is a very important tool in your toolbox. But exercise, or movement, in general is also incredibly effective in helping you manage neck pain. For more relief and better overall quality of life, keep active. 

Aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming increase blood flow and release endorphins, natural painkillers that may help with neck pain. According to a 2020 study published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation, people with neck pain who did six weeks of neck exercises along with aerobic exercise had less neck pain than people who did only neck exercises. An added bonus: Those who did the combo routine also had fewer headaches, which are a common side effect of neck tension.

PT Tip: Strengthen Your Neck Muscles, Too

The thing about muscles is that tight muscles can also be weak muscles, says Dr. Vinci. “Strengthening your neck muscles can give them better endurance, so they don’t have to work as hard to keep your head upright, and they have less tension. It’s helpful to balance stretching with strengthening to help relieve muscle tension,” she adds. You can start by incorporating some strengthening exercises into your stretching routine a few times per week. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Kazeminasab, S., Nejadghaderi, S.A., Amiri, P., Pourfathi, H., Araj-Khodaei, M., Sullman, M.J.M., Kolahi, A., & Safiri, S., (2022). Neck pain: global epidemiology, trends and risk factors. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 23(1), 26. doi:10.1186/s12891-021-04957-4

  2. Hansraj, K.K. (2014). Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head, Surgical Technology International, 25, 277-279.

  3. Hoy, D.G., Protani, M., De, R., & Buchbinder, R. (2010). The epidemiology of neck pain, Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology, 24(6), 783-792. doi:10.1016/j.berh.2011.01.019

  4. Daher, A., Carel, R.S., Tzipi, K., Esther, H., & Dar, G. (2020) The effectiveness of an aerobic exercise training on patients with neck pain during a short- and long-term follow-up: a prospective double-blind randomized controlled trial, Clinical Rehabilitation, 34(5), 617-629. doi:10.1177/0269215520912000

Table of Contents
Why Your Neck Hurts  How Does Stretching Reduce Neck Tension?Keep Active to Keep Neck Pain at Bay PT Tip: Strengthen Your Neck Muscles, TooHow Hinge Health Can Help You References