Have a stiff neck and need to nix the ache? Join the club.
Poor posture, arthritis, bad workout form, and stress can all contribute to neck pain, and about two-thirds of people will experience neck pain at some point in their lives. “Sometimes you’re not doing anything wrong; it is just that you are genetically predisposed to arthritis or other problems,” says Armin Tehrany, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon in New York City and founder of Manhattan Orthopedic Care.
Sixty percent of people with moderate to severe neck pain share a common, muscle-kinking “forward head posture” (where your chin sort of juts out ahead of your body). “Regardless of the cause, the sooner you get a diagnosis, the better,” Tehrany adds.
2 Quick Exercises to Nix Neck Pain
Whether you have arthritis or just suffer from sloppy slumping, try the moves below. Studies have shown that more than two-thirds of people with arthritis of the neck also report chronic shoulder pain. The neck, upper shoulders and chest all work together, all connected to your complex shoulder girdle. That’s why you’ll see moves targeting the shoulders plus other muscles below:
A study in the journal BioMed Research International found that office workers who performed up to two minutes of lateral raises five times a week had 40 percent less back and shoulder pain after 10 weeks than people who only received general information on workplace health.
Stand holding a 3- to 5- pound dumbbell in each hand at your sides (or use a resistance band). Raise arms out to the sides and slightly forward (targeting mid-back scapular retraction) until weights are parallel with the ground with palms down. Lower and repeat for 2-3 sets or until muscle fatigue sets in.
Often, when your head moves forward, the muscles along the back of your neck shorten and the ones in front get overstretched. A chin tuck can help counteract this.
Draw your chin back without dropping it toward your chest, so your spine gets longer (you should feel a stretch through the back of your neck as you do it). Hold for two seconds then release and repeat 8-10 times or until you’re tired. Do it several times throughout the day.
Healthier Habits Can Help Sidestep a Stiff Neck
Belly up in bed. Snoozing face down with your head turned to the side can wrench your neck. Opt to sleep on your side or back instead with only one supportive pillow under your neck.
Ditch — or switch — the tote or briefcase. Carrying a heavy bag on the same side day-in, day-out is another neck cruncher. It throws off your posture as muscles on the other side compensate. Either lighten your load or alternate arms.
Lean into it. Place a tennis or lacrosse ball against your back near the top of your shoulder blade and lean against a wall. Move around or adjust the ball until you hit a tender spot then rest there with as much body weight against it as you can tolerate. Stay for 30-60 seconds, then switch the ball to the other side and repeat. (You can also use it on tight neck muscles while you’re lying on the floor.)
Stand taller. Next time you’re in front of a mirror, eyeball your form as you reset your posture: Pull your head back (don’t tilt it up) so ears are aligned over your shoulders (which should be aligned over your hips and ankle bones); draw your shoulders back and down as well. Notice how that feels so you can replicate it when you’re standing in line or driving or sitting at your desk. Repeat this as many times a day as you remember to; eventually it will become second nature.