The daily grind can be tough – jumping out of bed, rushing to work, sitting at your desk all day, stressing – and that’s just when you’re in the office. Not only can we feel like our minds are all over the place, our bodies can begin to feel out of sorts too, and one of the first areas to show signs of soreness is the neck.
The symptoms of a sore neck can be really painful and uncomfortable and can even lead to tension headaches (yay). In fact, a study carried out by researchers from Imperial College London, Arthritis Research UK and the University of Aberdeen in 2016 showed that almost half the adult population in the UK, 43% to be exact, are living with chronic pain, including nerve pain in the neck (1).
The good thing is that there are simple, daily exercises you can do right now, no matter where you are, to ease and release the pain of a tight neck fast. Make sure you take your time with each of these moves so as not to injure yourself or add more pressure to the affected areas of your body. Go slow and enjoy.
The best exercises to manage neck pain
1. Cervical extension
You can try this neck extension while sitting in your office chair at work. It’s simple but very effective in releasing tension in the neck naturally. While seated, gently moving your neck into extension and holding it there for a 3 breath-count requires the muscles of your neck to engage (and you might notice that your head is heavier than you thought). Slowly lifting back to neutral, whilst attempting to articulate through each vertebra, will gradually improve the strength in your anterior neck muscles.
2. Lateral head lifts
This easy neck exercise can be done before bed or before getting up in the morning. Lay on your side without anything under your head for support (note: image has a towel – remove the towel). Slowly lift your head carefully to a neutral position and then gradually return it to the floor. You can repeat this movement 5 to 10 times to help you ease the pain that’s held in your neck and upper shoulders.
3. Cervical extension in supine
This one may be best at home or in a gym or yoga studio. Lay on your back, and have a smooth and slightly slippery surface under the back of your head for added comfort during this move. Slowly push the back of your head into the floor. Eventually, you’ll build up to a point where you can also gently lift your chin and attempt to draw your head towards your bum along the floor. Reverse out gradually and repeat 5 to 10 times, or take your time to build up – as long as you’re comfortable. Your shoulders and back should end up floating away from the floor once you’ve developed enough strength to get there. This move doesn’t require you to use your arms for support.
The real key with all of these sore neck exercises is to go at your own pace, nice and steady. Sudden or jerky movement may aggravate the tension so make sure that you are comfortable and build up the frequency until you feel a release. The strength and control are developed through the slow transitions into and out of the positions above – so no need to hold them for a long time – it’s the movement that is the most useful part to us.
When to see a Doctor about neck pain
In order to see long-term results, it's worth looking into creating a more mindful approach to starting your day. Stress naturally manifests itself in the body, but the more we can practice calmness, maybe we can learn to control how and where we feel anxiety, nervousness, fear and, of course, stress.
If you've tried to ease neck pain yourself with home remedies like paracetamol, a neck brace, or hot patches and the pain is still raging on, make sure to pay a visit to your trusted medical team. This is especially if the pain and stiffness don't go away after a few weeks, painkillers don't seem to work, you're worried about the pain, or if you have other symptoms like pins and needles (2). These could be signs of a more serious issue, so seek the advice of a Doctor who is well-learned in human physiology and pain science as soon as possible.
Some people prefer to try more holistic approaches to relieving neck pain easily such as acupuncture or cupping. Always make sure you are visiting a reputable practitioner before you try any of these options. Good luck and hope these exercises help you feel good in no time!
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