Neck Stretches for Pain Relief: How to Stretch Your Neck

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 30, 2024
5 min read

If your neck is stiff or sore, you're not alone. Neck pain is one of the most common types of pain among Americans. But as with any other part of your body, exercises and stretches can make the muscles in your neck stronger and more flexible. Try these moves to loosen a tense neck, banish pain, and gain flexibility.

Bonus: A strong neck can help prevent problems with your shoulders, upper back, and arms, too.

If you already have pain in your neck or elsewhere, talk to your doctor before you start. You will feel some tension in your neck muscles when you stretch. But you shouldn’t have pain. If you do, stop right away.

The following are neck stretches you can try to relieve tension.

This can be done while you're seated or on your feet. Keep your moves slow and smooth.

  • Start with your head squarely over your shoulders and your back straight.
  • Lower your chin toward your chest and hold for 15-30 seconds. Relax and slowly lift your head back up.
  • Tilt your chin up toward the ceiling and bring the base of your skull toward your back. Hold for 10 seconds, then return to the start position.
  • Repeat the set several times. Do it every day.

Do this while standing, with your feet hip-width apart and arms down by your sides.

  • Gently tilt your head toward your right shoulder and try to touch it with your ear. Stop when you feel the stretch. Don't raise your shoulder.
  • Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds, then return to the start position.
  • Repeat on your left side. You can do several sets and work your way up to 10 repetitions.
  • For extra stretch, put the hand on the same side of your tilted head on top of your head, and press lightly with your fingertips.

You can do this while seated or standing.

  • Keep your head squarely over your shoulders and your back straight.
  • Slowly turn your head to the right until you feel a stretch in the side of your neck and shoulder.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, then slowly turn your head forward again.
  • Repeat on your left side. Do up to 10 sets.

This is best done standing up.

  • Raise your shoulders straight up and move them in a circle going forward. Do it six times.
  • Return to the start position, and make another six circles, this time going backward.

This stretch involves retracting, or pulling back, your neck and head. You can do this one while sitting down or standing.

  • Look straight ahead, with your chin tucked down slightly.
  • Pull your head and chin backward slowly, as if you’re trying to create a double chin. Pull back as far as you can without straining.
  • Try not to tilt your head forward or backward. 
  • Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds.
  • Move your head back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times. 

This can help fix what’s called forward head posture, when your head hangs forward, in front of your shoulders.

For this stretch, you need a rolled-up towel. Start standing up and looking straight ahead.

  • Put the rolled-up towel around the back of your neck, holding both ends of the towel taut with your hands.
  • Tilt your head back and look up as far as you can.
  • As you look up, your hands should also move upward, so that the towel keeps supporting your head and neck as you move.
  • Keep a gentle pull on the towel.
  • After you lift your head up, bring it back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times.

This exercise is similar to neck retraction, but you do it while lying down.

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Pull your chin backward and down as far as possible.
  • Hold it for 1-5 seconds, then release.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Here are some other neck stretches that might help relieve pain and stiffness in your neck:

  • Diagonal forward tilt, where you tilt your head diagonally rather than straight down
  • Head rolls or neck rolls
  • Resistance presses, which involve you pressing on the front or back of your head
  • Shoulder shrugs

Neck stretches for instant pain relief

Neck pain can have many causes, and it can bother you in different parts of your neck. Some of these neck stretches may provide instant pain relief, but they can also help prevent future pain and tension. Neck stretches can improve your range of motion and mobility, too.

If you need to relieve your pain and stretches aren’t working immediately, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen may help. You can also try ice or heat.

Neck pain is a common problem, but neck stretches can help. Neck stretches are usually easy to do, and doing them regularly can help relieve everyday pain and stiffness as well as prevent future problems. They can ease tension and improve the flexibility and mobility of your neck.

Why are my neck muscles so tight?

Neck muscles can feel tight for many reasons. Some common causes of neck pain are poor posture, physical strain on your muscles, mental stress, and aging.

How do you fix a stiff neck muscle?

If your neck feels stiff, you can try neck stretches to loosen up the stiff muscle and prevent the problem from happening again. 

Is a stiff neck a serious condition?

A stiff neck usually isn’t serious, and it often goes away after at-home treatment or on its own after a few days. If it doesn’t, and if you have neck stiffness along with other symptoms such as nausea or sensitivity to light, you should see a doctor because it could be a sign of meningitis.

How long does a stiff neck last?

If you have a stiff neck and try some stretches, it might go away immediately. Sometimes, your stiff neck might last a few days. 

What are some easy neck stretches to do in the workplace?

Many neck stretches can be done in the workplace because they don’t require much space or equipment. Stretches such as forward and backward tilt, side rotation, and neck retraction are easy to do while sitting.