Your Neck Feels Tight, What Can You Do About it?

Neck tightness is a common symptom found in those with high stress, poor neck posture, poor sleeping habits (check out our blog on finding the right pillow, inactivity, history of previous injuries, etc. Neck tightness can also be a symptom of more serious conditions such as whiplash associated disorder, torticollis, nerve impingement, etc.  If your neck tightness is severe and has an subtle onset, contact your therapist to have it assessed, properly diagnosed, and to discuss an appropriate course of treatment.

Neck Stretch Routine:

Below is a basic routine to help release some neck tension.  These exercises are meant to provide relief, not worsen your symptoms.  The intensity of these exercises is dependent on how you feel. Remember you are in control!

Start with some active Range of Motion (as I tell everyone, our bodies are designed to move!)

  • Side bending: Bring your ears to your shoulder while keeping the shoulders depressed and retracted







  • Rotation: Look left to right while maintaining shoulder position









  • Flexion and extension: Look all the way down and all the way up while maintaining shoulder position.









  • Circumduction: Draw circles with your head and neck starting clockwise then counterclockwise


  • Shoulder rolls: Roll shoulders in circular forward and backward motions while keeping arms to the side









Repeat each movement 5-10 repetitions. Gauge the repetition according to how you are feeling.  Remember you are in control!


Static stretches

  • Side bend upper trap stretch: Bring your right ear to the right shoulder without elevating your shoulder. You will feel a stretch on the left side on the upper left trap.  Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.  Repeat on the left side.








Side bend with downward rotation stretch (stretches deeper into the neck): Start with the upper trap stretchand then rotate the head towards the ground.  Imagine drawing your nose towards your armpit.  Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.  Repeat this on the opposite side.









  • Side bend with upward rotation stretch (stretches the anterior aspect of the neck): Start with the upper trap stretch and then rotate the head towards the sky, naturally your head will look up towards the opposite side of lateral flexion.  (eg. if you laterally flex to the right you will be gazing towards the left skywards.) Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.  Repeat this on the opposite side.









  • Chin tuck exercise (stretches the deep suboccipital neck muscles): These are the group of muscles deep at the base of the skull.  To stretch these muscles, you need to know how to retract your neck. This movement is the opposite movement of what we typically do when we are at our computers, tablets, phones or books.  We naturally do this to concentrate on what we are doing.  To retract your neck, lean against a wall with your shoulders and lower back against the wall.  Press the back of your head towards the wall causing a double chin.  At times, due to the tightness in the neck, this movement can cause you to bring the head upwards or shrug your shoulders.  Be sure to keep your chin levelled to the ground and your gaze straight forward and not upwards.  This exercise of retraction may be enough to stretch the suboccipitals. You can hold this positionfor 3-5 seconds and repeat 5-10 repetitions.  You can use your hands to help increase the intensity of the stretch.  Interlace your fingers behind your head, retract the neck, and gently pull the head up and forward into a gentle neck flexion while maintaining neck retraction.  You should feel the stretch in the back of the neck.









If pain is worsened with any of these exercises, STOP.

These exercises are meant to help with neck tightness.  Remember to breathe while performing these exercises!