If you have a desk job, chances are you also have a pain in your neck. Poor desk ergonomics and improper sitting posture may be wreaking havoc on your neck and spine. For most of us, a little daily attention in the form of a few simple stretches will help keep our necks happy and healthy.
An important warning, though: Neck pain can be serious! If you have pain or a neck or spine injury you should always get your doctor's permission before doing any new exercises.
Once you're cleared to go, try these stretches several times a day. In every case, move slowly and carefully, never jerking or pulling. Always keep the stretches within your comfort zone. Repeat each stretch 5-6 times; you should feel a little bit looser each time.
1. Shoulder Shrugs. A good warm up move is to roll your shoulders up, back and down several times to loosen the muscles.
2. Neck Flex and Extend. From a neutral head position (chin parallel to the floor), drop your chin toward your chest, just until you feel a comfortable stretch in the neck. Then gently raise your chin toward the ceiling. Don't overextend; just keep it comfortable.
3. Neck Rotation. Keeping your chin parallel to the floor, rotate your head so that you look first over one shoulder and then over the other. No need to force it! Just turn until you feel a comfortable tension, then reverse direction to the other side.
4. Diagonal Look Up. This move may seem tricky at first. You may want to practice in front of a mirror. Begin by turning your chin down toward one shoulder, then rotate your neck so that your chin draws a diagonal line from low over one shoulder to high over the other. Repeat several times in both directions.
5. Upper Trapezius Stretch. This move targets the ropey muscles between your neck and shoulders. Put one arm by your side or behind your back. Put the other hand on top of your head and gently pull your head away from the arm that's down. Dropping the shoulder that you're pulling away from increases the stretch. No need to tug on your head; keep it gentle!
6. Head Alignment. After a long day of staring at a screen, many of us end up with a foreward head posture. The head is cantilevered off the neck in front of the body, rather than resting above the shoulders where it belongs. Bring your cervical spine back into alignment with this move. Retract your head by pulling it back, as if to make a double chin. Then keeping your head in that position, tilt your chin back to parallel with the floor, so your eyes are looking toward the horizon.
Give these moves a try every day for a week or two, and let us know in the comments how you feel!
(Video credits: Prime of Life Fitness, LLC)