Stress is the body’s response to increased physical and mental demands. The neck, which is comprised of cervical vertebrae, shock-absorbing disks, muscles and vertebral ligaments, is particularly vulnerable since physical stress brought on by poor habits, such as bad posture, teeth grinding and sleeping position, can cause muscles to tighten or tense. Even activities like reading in bed can throw the neck out of alignment, causing pain, headaches (when muscles in the neck begin to affect nerves) and possibly more serious problems. Try the following stress-relieving neck stretches to ease tension. Be sure to breathe while stretching, and stop if you feel pain, tingling, numbness or dizzy.
Stand in a relaxed position. Imagine a string pulling the top of the head upward. Repeat 5 to 10 times. This stretch of the neck and spine helps realign vertebrae and muscles and helps create awareness for ideal neutral position of the neck.
Head Half Rolls
From a relaxed position, gently tilt the left ear toward the left shoulder. Then slowly roll the head forward and then toward the right shoulder. Now roll the opposite direction. Make sure to stop before rolling the head back into a full head roll. Hyperextending the cervical spine, or moving the neck beyond its normal range of motion, can add more strain and possibly cause injury.
With back straight in a relaxed position, rotate the head slowly to the left (looking over the left shoulder). Hold for a second or two. Then tuck the chin toward the left shoulder, careful not to raise the shoulders. From here, roll the head toward the center of the chest and lift back to the neutral starting position. Repeat on the right side. This stretch relieves tension as well as stimulates nerves in the cervical vertebrae.
Upper Trapezius Stretch
The upper trapezius muscle runs from shoulder to the head. Sit in an upright position with the right arm behind your back. With the left hand, gently grasp the right side of your head to help tilt it toward the left shoulder. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds; repeat three times on each side.
The scalene muscle group runs along the side of the neck and connects to the ribs. Sit in an upright position with hands clasped behind you. Lower the left shoulder, and tilt head toward the right. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and return to a neutral position. Repeat on opposite side.
Loosening muscles in the shoulder area can help relieve stress in the neck. Relax the arms and begin rolling shoulders up, back, down and forward in a circular, fluid motion. Repeat 5 to 10 times, then reverse direction.