It's likely that your lifestyle and work demands are putting stress on your body, particularly on your neck and shoulders, but simple stretches can make so much of a difference.
One of the things you might have been ignoring for a long time is that annoying pain in your neck and your shoulders. With lifestyles having drastically changed, and most people being tied down to their desks for hours or slouching over their phones, experiencing discomfort in these areas has become increasingly common. Inappropriate posture and other factors can weaken your neck muscles over a certain period of time, and regular activities like staring down at your monitor or phone, or driving for too many hours a day can amplify the negative effect. A routine that includes these activities can wear out the muscles in your neck joints and overstretch them.
A stiff neck isn’t pleasant to deal with at all. “When your neck muscles become weak and you try to turn your head, the joint no longer moves smoothly because it’s now out of place,” says Dr. Andrew Bang of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine. “Often the joint catches on something, either pulling a muscle or hitting the nerve irregularly, or maybe both. Then you’ll have instant pain and your body has a protective spasm. Your body doesn’t want you to get hurt more, so it will clench, causing you to feel like you can’t even move — and leaving you wondering what you did to injure yourself.”
When it comes to your shoulders, inappropriate sleeping positions, injuries and sitting for prolonged periods of time can make you experience tightness in your shoulders. Stress, tension, and overuse can also be factors that cause the stiffness, and this not only puts a damper on your daily activities, but the tension might also affect your neck, back, and upper body. The challenge is that a lot of the activities you do during the day are unavoidable, because of responsibilities at work and at home. But there are a few effective stretches that you can do that can greatly help your neck and shoulder muscles.
You can take it slow and not force your muscles to stretch out more than they can. For each position, stretch your muscles until you feel comfortable, and don’t force your muscles to go further than what’s comfortable. Keep this page bookmarked and make sure you do some of these stretches and do your body a big favor:
This deep stretch will work against any unnecessary tension in these areas. Make sure that you’re seated in a comfortable position, either on the floor or on a chair depending on your choice. Lock your hands together, lift your palms and place them behind your head. Make sure that your spine remains tall and your hips are firmly grounded, and then gently let your hands press your head downwards to the direction of your thighs. Pull your head away from your shoulders with help from the heels of your palms, as this will amplify the effect of the stretch. Remain in that position for half a minute before you gradually lift your head back up.
This stretch, which is referred to as the cross arm stretch, would require raising your left arm across your body’s front side and placing it above your right shoulder. Then, use your right hand to support your left arm and let it stretch your shoulder as you remain facing forward. After half a minute, release your arm slowly and then switch sides.
Remain seated comfortably for this one. Start the stretch by placing your right arm behind your body, and let the right shoulder remain relaxed. Then gently move your left ear towards your left shoulder, and this will allow the right side of your neck to ease out. You can hold this position for about a minute, and then you can repeat the same stretch for the other side.
For this stretch, you will have to remain standing straight, keeping your shoulders and your back at ease. Take your arms backward and lock them together behind your lower back. While your arms are clasped behind, raise them up and make sure that your elbows remain straight. Your arms should ideally be moving away from your body while maintaining the upright posture. Holding this stretch for 15 seconds to half a minute would be effective.
Remain seated for this stretch and begin by raising your left elbow, and then wrap your right elbow underneath your left elbow until your palms touch (or until they are almost touching to the point that feels most comfortable for you). Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed, and then lift your elbows off your chest and slowly move them away from your face to one side. To amplify the stretch, you can gently move your chin downwards to your chest while your upper back widens.
For this stretch, you will have to start by remaining seated on your heels. Then, lean backward and place your palms on the floor (palms facing the ground, fingers pointing towards the other side of your body) roughly 8–10 inches behind you. Start applying your body’s pressure onto your hands, and then raise your chest upwards, allowing your back to arch while your hips push into your heels. To take the stretch further, let your head lean back to allow your throat and your chest to stretch further. Hold the position for about half a minute before you bring your head and torso forward.
Remain standing for this stretch. Clench your palms into fists and place them on your hips. Then, take a deep breath, and as you inhale, raise your arms upwards until they go above your head. And then gradually bring them back to the starting position of the stretch. This simple stretch can be repeated 10 times.
You can choose to do this pose while sitting or standing, based on whichever feels more comfortable for you. Move your arms towards your back and let both palms face each other with your fingers facing down. Then, flip your hands in the upward direction so that your fingers are now facing up. While you keep your hands pressed against each other, let your elbows move slightly back with your chest opened up and ensuring that your spine is kept straight. The reverse prayer pose helps release tension from your shoulders and collarbone area, amongst other benefits.
Remain seated for this stretch. Start by raising your left elbow and placing your palm behind your back on your left side. Then, with the help of your right hand, let your left elbow move downwards along your spine. If you are able to, let your right arm bend and clasp your left hand. Remain in that position for about a minute before you switch sides.