Discover more from The Sunday Stretch
Five stretches that are a real head turner
Give your neck a little TLC with these tension-relieving moves.
It’s been a while since I was in school, but I still love the fresh start heralded by back-to-school season. Trade in confetti poppers and champagne hangovers for number two pencils and a to-go mug of black coffee and you’ve got the nerdier, pressure-lite version of New Year’s Eve.
But this time of year also means a return to longer hours at my desk. And the twinge of excitement now includes actual twinges. When I can’t squeeze in a full lunchtime yoga class—something that really should not feel like the luxury it is—I do take a few minutes to stretch. The whole routine, if I actually did it in one shot, would take as much time as the hour-long class I’ve guilted myself out of. So, interspersed throughout the next few weeks, we’ll look at midday stretches we can do one body part at a time.
That kid from Jerry Maguire was wrong; the average adult head weighs ten to 12 pounds in a neutral, upright position. When we look down (say, at our phone or computer) the load on our neck can be up to 60 pounds, which may be one reason neck pain is super common.
Good news: A 2016 studyfound when desk jockeys with neck pain did a series of stretches five days a week, the pain was reduced and they had better neck mobility after a month.
Warm up by moving your head in all planes of motion—look over each shoulder, tuck your chin to your chest and then look up and take a few slow neck circles. Then, try these five stretches for a little neck relief and postural support.
When done regularly, chin tucks can improve neck strength and flexibility and keep our head aligned above the spine, rather than rounding forward into poor posture.
To do: Sit up straight and move your head backward along a horizontal plane, aligning your neck over your spine. Imagine you’re trying to give yourself a double chin and don't let your head and neck bend forward or backward. Hold this position for five to ten seconds. Relax and repeat five more times.
Back of the neck stretch
We use our trapezius, a pair of large muscles that extend from the neck to shoulders when we shrug or pull our shoulders back. Slouching and rounding forward can leave them extra crunchy.
To do: Interlace your hands behind your head. Keep your elbows open wide and press your head into your hands. As you exhale, slowly tuck your chin to your chest and start to round your upper back. Use your hands to gently traction the neck forward deepening the stretch. Hold for five to ten breaths and slowly return to an upright position.
Lateral neck stretches
The muscles in the side of your neck (the sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, and scalenes for the curious/geeky) help turn the head, flex and bend the neck, and move the shoulder blades. We can stretch these muscle groups with these two moves.
To do: Turn your chin over the right shoulder and hold here. Place your right hand on the outside of the left jaw to gently add some additional pressure. Hold for five to ten breaths and repeat on the left side.
Add a nod: Turn your chin back over the right shoulder. Keep the chin over the shoulder and look up and down slowly, making a slight arc with your chin from over the shoulder down towards the center of the chest.
Front of the neck stretch
The scalenes, a group of three muscles, continue into the front of the neck. This stretch will help further release any tension there as well as in the broad muscle fibers known as the platysma that connect from your jaw to the collarbone. These all get particularly short and tight with too much forward head motion.
To do: Turn your head to look over your left shoulder. Bring the fingertips of both hands to the top, front right side of your neck and drag them down towards your collarbone tightening the skin. Hold the skin taut at your collarbone. Deepen the stretch by lifting your chin slightly. Deepen it even more by sticking out your lower jaw and giving yourself an underbite. Hold for five to ten breaths and repeat on the other side.
Upper trap roll
This works the middle part of your trapezius muscles, where the neck meets the back and shoulders. This part of the muscle brings the shoulder blades back so stretching this area can counteract the rounding that comes from sitting at a desk all day.
To do: Grab a pair of massage or tennis balls and place them horizontally between the wall and the base of your neck. Bend your knees and walk your feet away from the wall. Interlace your hands behind your head and tuck your chin towards your chest. Hold here for five to ten breaths. Then slowly bend and straighten your knees, rolling the balls up and down about an inch.
Working out the kinks,
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