The Best Exercises for a Stiff Neck

Micki Roche

A stiff neck is one of the most common types of pain among Americans. It’s characterized by a tightness that starts in the neck and may radiate pain down one or both of your arms. Neck stiffness is generally not a cause for alarm. However, the painful flare-ups can be debilitating.

The most effective remedy for a stiff neck is proper stretching. Keeping your neck moving may help reduce tension and increase the range of motion in the neck. Below, we take a look at four key movements that can help reduce tightness or discomfort in your neck. 

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: At Sworkit, your safety is our top priority. These workouts are not intended to be a substitute for care from a physical therapist but rather as post-rehabilitation and injury prevention routines. If you experience signs or symptoms of injury, you should seek the advice of a physical therapist or other health care professional.

Neck Rotation

Neck rotation (turning your neck side to side) is one of the most effective remedies for a stiff neck. It’s also the most challenging movement to attempt with a stiff neck. We recommend rotating your neck as far as you can go without increasing pain. 

Here’s how to rotate your neck from side to side safely:

  • Start at the neutral position and turn your head slowly to the right as if to look over your shoulder.
  • Hold in that position for a few seconds and turn your head back to the neutral position. 
  • Perform the same movement on the left side.
  • Repeat a few times and do it several times a day.

Neck Flexion (Forward and Backward Tilt)

Bending your neck forward and backward (neck flexion) can also help ease neck stiffness and general neck pain. You can perform this movement seated or on your feet. Here’s how to perform the movement safely: 

  • Keep your back straight and with your head squarely over your shoulders.
  • Slowly lower your chin toward your chest while moving only your head. Hold for a few seconds and bring your head back up.
  • Gradually raise your chin towards the ceiling as far as you can comfortably go and hold for a few seconds. 
  • Bring your head to the neutral position and perform several repetitions. 

Lateral Neck Flexion (Side Tilt)

Bending side-to-side (lateral flexion) is another effective remedy for neck tightness. This movement is best performed on your feet. Here’s how to perform a lateral neck flexion safely: 

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and arms on your side.
  • Gently bend your neck to the side, as if to bring your ear towards the shoulder. Keep your shoulders and back stationary.
  •  Hold the stretch for several seconds before slowly returning to the neutral position.
  • Repeat the movement to the other side of your neck. 

Note that when you perform a lateral neck flexion with your head bending towards the right shoulder, you’ll feel the stretch along the left side of your neck and vice versa. 

Shoulder Rolls 

Shoulder rolls are also effective for removing accumulated stress and tension in the neck. This movement alleviates pain and tension by increasing blood flow to tight muscles in your neck.

Here’s how to perform shoulder rolls safely: 

  •  Stand up with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • With your head and neck in a neutral position, bring both your shoulders up in a shrugging motion.
  • Move your shoulders in a circle going forward by squeezing the shoulder blades together and then releasing them.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat the movement going in the opposite direction. 

These exercises can loosen a tense neck and help you feel better. Stretching your neck will not only alleviate the stiffness but will also make the muscles in your neck stronger and more flexible. A strong neck lowers your risk of stiffness, injury, and general neck pain. 

Use our fitness app to exercise your neck muscles in order to keep them strong and flexible. Sworkit can help reduce common pain points caused by sitting at a desk, overstraining, underuse, etc. With Sworkit’s multiple musculoskeletal program offerings, you can experience significantly less pain. 

Explore Sworkit’s NEW Move More, Hurt Less collection that helps you prevent and reduce common pain points in the body.

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