How to manage neck pain (Part 1): effective stretches for pain relief

Disclaimer! This article is a general overview/program for neck pain, and a professional should review the exercises to make sure you are doing them properly. It is important to note that it’s not sport specific, nor would it be appropriate for a more serious injury- *if you are not sure about the exercises, don’t make your condition worse by doing something inappropriate. Book an appointment at STC and we can check it out.

There is a growing body of evidence that exercise therapy can be effective for neck pain. This is important because low to high level athletes (yes, that includes desk workers and weekend warriors too!) are affected by neck pain. For example, the recreational cyclists suffer neck pain at a relatively high rate 20-55 per cent (1,2). Neck pain is usually the result of postural imbalances, muscle strains, soft tissue contusions (bruising) & ligament sprains.

So what can you, do about it? The very first area to work on is STRETCHING.

Self-stretching exercises may reduce neck pain, at least in the short term. Stretching 5x per week has been shown to be effective in reducing chronic neck pain (3).

For example if you experience neck pain and have an increased rounded upper back (also known as thoracic kyphosis) from prolonged desk jobs and riding positions, you may benefit from using a foam roller to stretch the upper back (thoracic spine). Stretching the pectoralis minor may reduce anterior chest tightness, which in turn, may reduce the neck pain (5).  Or, if you find you have reduced movement and pain with looking side to side (shaking head movement), stretching your upper traps and scalenes may help increase your motion and alleviate pain. 

When should I come in?

  • Pain greater than 2/10 for more than 2 days
  • Headaches, pins and needles, numbness or abnormal loss of power in any muscles
  • Any shooting pain down neck, over shoulder and down arm or back
  • Niggling neck pain at the end of the day or waking up with discomfort at night                                                          

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Stretching these few muscles has been shown to help with neck pain (4)

  • Scalenes, upper trapezius
  • Levator scapulae
  • Pectoralis minor
  • Pectoralis major

stretch for neck pain 1

Pectoralis Minor                      

Interlink hands behind your back, pull the shoulders back opening up the chest, then draw them down until you feel stretch.

Hold for 45 seconds. Repeat 2x, 2x per day

stretch for neck pain 2

Pectoralis Major                   

Find a corner and bring arms up on each wall, let your body lean into the corner stretching your chest muscles.

Hold for 45 seconds. Repeat 2x, 2x per day

stretch for neck pain 3

Upper Trapezius                        

Hand behind the ear, turn the head sideways and look down- nose to armpit. Should feel stretch over the back of the neck and shoulder.

Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 2x, 2x per day

stretch for neck pain 4


Hand on side of the head, keep head looking forwards, draw head to the side gently.

Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 2x, 2x per day