How to relieve tense neck muscles

Neck Tension: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

About the neck

Muscle tension in the neck is a common complaint. Your neck contains flexible muscles that support the weight of your head. These muscles can be injured and irritated from overuse and postural problems.

Neck pain can also sometimes be attributed to worn joints or compressed nerves, but neck tension typically refers to muscle spasms or soft tissue injuries. The top of the spine is also located in the neck and can be a source of pain, too.

Neck tension can come on suddenly or slowly. It’s not unusual to wake up with tense muscles in your neck after sleeping in an odd position or straining your muscles while exercising.

Ongoing neck tension that comes and goes over the course of many months may have less noticeable causes, like grinding your teeth or hunching over the computer. There are a range of activities that can affect the muscles in your neck.

We dive into some treatments, prevention strategies, and possible reasons for your neck tension:

The symptoms of neck tension, which may come on suddenly or slowly, include:

  • muscle tightness
  • muscle spasms
  • muscle stiffness
  • difficulty turning your head in certain directions
  • pain that worsens in certain positions

Depending on the root cause of your neck tension, you may benefit from one or more of these tension treatments:

Neck tension exercises and stretches

To relieve tension in the neck, you can try a series of neck stretches. There are many yoga poses that may benefit your neck, but to target the neck muscles directly, consider the following stretches:

Seated neck stretch

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  1. Sit in a comfortable seated position, either cross-legged on the floor or in a chair with your feet able to touch the ground.
  2. Place your left hand under your bottom and your right hand on top of your head.
  3. Gently pull your head to the right, so that your ear is almost touching your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.

Chin to chest stretch

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  1. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, clasp your hands on top of your head, elbows pointing outward.
  2. Gently pull your chin to your chest and hold for 30 seconds.

Cheek push stretch

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  1. From a sitting or standing position, place your right hand on your right cheek.
  2. Turning to look over your left shoulder, gently push your right cheek as far as you can and focus your gaze on a spot behind you.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.

Acupuncture for neck tension

Acupuncture is a treatment that uses fine needles to stimulate certain points on your body. It has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. But there’s currently little consensus on if acupuncture is an effective treatment for neck tension and pain.

Results from some studies have suggested that acupuncture may help with certain types of muscular pain, including neck tension, but more research is needed.

One 2008 study that included 46 people who had tension neck syndrome (TNS), compared three treatment methods: physical therapy (exercises) alone, acupuncture alone, and physical therapy together with acupuncture.

The study found that while all three methods improved symptoms for participants, using exercises and acupuncture together to treat neck pain was more effective than either treatment used alone.

More neck tension treatments

There are several other things you can do that may benefit you, including:

  • getting a massage
  • applying heat or ice
  • soaking in salt water or a warm bath
  • taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve)
  • practicing meditation
  • doing yoga

We’ve mentioned the treatments for when you’ve already got neck tension, but what about for preventing it from happening again? You may have to make some adjustments to your long-term habits to relieve some of the tension in your neck.

Here are several ways you can manage and prevent tension in your neck and shoulders:

  • Get ergonomic. Adjust your workstation so that your computer is at eye level. Adjust the height of your chair, desk, and computer until you find the right fit. Consider using a standing desk, but make sure you do it correctly.
  • Think about your posture. Improve your posture when sitting andstanding. Keep your hips, shoulders, and ears in a straight line. Consider setting alarms to check in with how you’re holding yourself throughout the day.
  • Take breaks. Take breaks while you work and travel to get up, move your body, and stretch your neck and upper body. This can benefit more than just your muscles, it can also benefit your eyes and mental well-being.
  • Sleep on it. Improve your sleeping position with a smaller, flatter, firmer pillow.
  • Take the weight off your shoulders — literally. Use a rolling bag instead of carrying heavy bags over your shoulders. You may want to do a monthly cleaning to make sure you’re only carrying the essentials, and not weighing yourself down with more burden for your neck and back.
  • Start moving. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week to keep your body in good condition.
  • Practice mindfulness through meditation and yoga. Practicing either yoga or meditation can help reduce psychological and physical stress. Yoga can count as part of your daily exercise, too!
  • See a doctor or dentist when necessary. If you’re experiencing chronic neck tension, or aren’t sure what’s causing it, it definitely doesn’t hurt to see a doctor. You should also consult a dentist about teeth grinding or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) treatments. They may be able to provide you with an overnight bite guard or other treatment option.

There are many possible reasons why you may be experiencing neck tension. Common causes include:

  • Repetitive motion.People who work in occupations that require them to perform repetitive movements often strain the muscles in their neck.
  • Poor posture.The average adult’s head weighs 10 to 11 pounds. When this weight isn’t properly supported by good posture, the neck muscles are forced to work harder than they should, which can cause strain.
  • The computer.Many people spend their entire day behind a computer. Hunching over the computer isn’t a natural position for the body. This form of poor posture is a particularly common cause of strained neck muscles.
  • The phone.Whether you’re holding it between your ear and shoulder at work, or are hunched over it playing games and checking social media at home, the phone is a common cause of poor neck posture. Check out these tips to avoid text neck.
  • Teeth grinding and TMJ.When you grind or clench your teeth, it puts pressure on the muscles in your neck and jaw. This pressure can strain the muscles in your neck, causing ongoing pain. There are exercises you can do to promote more relaxed jaw muscles.
  • Exercise and sports.Whether you’re lifting weights in a way that engages the neck muscles, or whipping your head around during a sports game, physical activity is a common cause of minor neck injury and strain.
  • Poor sleep position.When you sleep, your head and neck should be aligned with the rest of your body. Sleeping with large pillows that elevate your neck too much can cause tension to build up while you sleep.
  • Heavy bags.Carrying heavy bags, especially those with straps going over your shoulder, can throw your body out of balance. This can put strain on one side of your neck, which allows tension to build.
  • Stress.Psychological stress has a powerful impact on the whole body. When you’re stressed, you may inadvertently tense up and strain the muscles in your neck. Neck tension stress affects many people.
  • Trauma.When you’re injured, such as in a car accident or fall, you may experience whiplash. Whiplash can happen anytime the neck snaps back forcefully, straining the muscles.
  • Tension headaches. Tension headaches are mild to moderate dull headaches that typically affect the forehead. While neck tension can cause tension headaches, tension headaches can also cause neck pain and tenderness.

Neck tension on its own isn’t usually an emergency and often resolves with time. On the other hand, you should consult a doctor immediately if you’ve been in a car accident or experienced another impact injury.

See a doctor soon if you have neck tension accompanied by other symptoms like:

  • pain, including in your arms or head
  • persistent headache
  • fever
  • nausea

Otherwise, call your doctor if your neck pain is severe or doesn’t improve after a few days.


Neck tension is a common problem affecting people all over the world. There are many possible causes. Treatment for neck pain often involves a combination of strategies. Most neck tension resolves on its own. Consult your doctor if you have questions or concerns about the cause of your neck tension or if it doesn’t improve or gets worse.

Remedies for a Stiff Neck, Ways to Manage Muscle Stiffness, and When to See Your Doctor

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 12, 2020

In this Article

  • Remedies and Treatments for Neck Stiffness
  • When to See a Doctor

The phrase "pain in the neck" is funny and sometimes accurate. A stiff neck is a common problem, affecting about 10% of the population at any given time. There are many reasons for neck pain, making it difficult to determine the exact cause. 

If you wake up with a stiff neck, you're likely experiencing a muscle spasm, or contraction. That's known as a muscle strain. A neck sprain affects the ligaments, or tough tissues that connect and stabilize your bones. Tendinitis — inflammation in the tissue that attaches muscle to bone and controls movement — is another contributing factor for neck pain. 

Symptoms of a stiff neck include:

  • Tight muscles or muscle spasms
  • Inability to move your head, or a decreased range of motion
  • Pain that continues to get worse when you hold your head in one position for a long time

A headache that won't go away 

Remedies and Treatments for Neck Stiffness

At-home remedies will usually help with the majority of early-stage neck stiffness:

  • Apply an ice pack to numb the area and soothe inflamed muscles.
  • Take an over-the-counter painkiller, like Tylenol, Advil, or Aleve.
  • After a day or two, apply a heating pad or warm compress.

During the next few days, take these precautions:

  • Be aware of your movements. Try not to jerk your head quickly or twist your neck. This can cause inflammation. 
  • Try gentle stretches, moving the head back and forth, then up and down.
  • Ask a friend or partner to massage the sore area.
  • Wear a neck collar for a few hours to rest stiff neck muscles.
  • Sleep without a pillow, or use one that's specifically designed to support the neck. 

It's possible to prevent a stiff neck. The majority of neck pain is a combination of bad posture, injury, or general wear and tear as you age. If you experience neck stiffness often, try making some simple adjustments:

Watch Your Posture

Shoulders should be in a straight line over your hips. Ears should be in line with your shoulders. 

Adjust Desk Furniture 

Your computer should be level with your eyes. Consider raising or lowering your desk monitor or laptop. When you sit, adjust your chair to ensure the knees fall slightly below the hips. 

Use Headphones or Speakerphones

If you hold your phone between your ears and shoulder, or look down to text, you're putting the neck in an awkward position that could cause muscle strain. Wear headphones or use your speakerphone instead. 

Take Frequent Breaks 

Sitting in the car or at your desk can take a toll on your body. Get up every hour, move around, and do some light stretching. 

Switch Shoulders

If you carry heavy bags, make sure the weight is evenly distributed between both sides of the body. Excess weight can lead to neck strain. 

Find a Supportive Way to Sleep

The head should be aligned with the body. Try placing a small pillow underneath your neck. It may help to sleep on your back and place extra pillows underneath the thighs to align the muscles in your spine.

When to See a Doctor

A stiff neck usually improves over a few days with at-home remedies. Sometimes neck pain is a symptom of a bigger health problem, although this is rare. See a doctor if: 

  • The pain is severe.
  • Neck soreness or stiffness doesn't go away after several days.
  • Pain or stiffness travels down the arms or legs.
  • You have a bad headache and notice numbness, weakness, or a tingling sensation.
  • You've recently suffered an injury — from a car accident or a fall, for example. 

Neck Pain in Children 

A stiff neck isn't just something that happens to adults. Children also experience neck soreness and pain. At-home remedies like ice packs, massage, neck stretches, and over-the-counter painkillers are also helpful for your kids. Make an appointment with your doctor or pediatrician if your child: 

  • Has an injury or has recently experienced head or neck trauma
  • Is overly tired 
  • Was bitten by a tick 
  • Has a skin rash, headache, or flu-like symptoms
  • Is nauseous or vomiting
  • Is fussy or cranky
  • Is an infant and is having problems nursing or sucking a bottle

11 exercises to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders / AdMe

Many of us are familiar with the state when the neck muscles are stiff and the shoulders are tense. Well, if the pain is caused by stress, the habit of sitting in the wrong position or lack of physical activity - in this case, regular muscle stretching exercises can significantly alleviate your condition and even permanently relieve pain. The key word here is "regular".

We at ADME have found some very effective stretching exercises to help with neck and shoulder pain.

1. Neck roll

This is a very gentle stretch that is used to relieve tension in the entire neck .

  • Turn the towel with a roller
  • Put it under the base of the skull
  • Remove your head back and completely relax
  • Stay in this position for 10 minutes if you do not experience pain

2. Stretching of the neck with hands

This is exercise provides deep stretching back of the neck and upper back .

  • Sit comfortably on a chair or on the floor
  • Clasp your hands behind your head
  • Gently pull your head down trying to bring your chin to your chest
  • Hold your head in this position for 30-40 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position and 901 disengage8


Lateral head tilt


The purpose of this exercise is to stretch the left and right sides of the neck .

  • Sit comfortably on a chair or on the floor
  • Place your right hand on the top of your head and gently pull your head to the right
  • Keep your back straight and relax your shoulders
  • Remain in this position for 30-40 seconds, then slowly return your head to the starting position
  • Repeat the same for the other side

4. Upper trapezius stretch

This stretch works both neck and shoulders .

  • Place your right hand behind your back and grasp your left hand around your wrist
  • Gently pull your hand towards your left foot
  • Tilt your left ear towards your left shoulder
  • Hold this position for
on the other side, then repeat for the other side You can do this exercise with your hands in front of you. This way you also engage the upper trapezius muscles, but change the angle a little.

5. Stretching the levator scapula muscle

This exercise works the shoulders and lateral muscles of the neck .

  • Sit on a chair and grab it from behind with one hand
  • Point your chin to your chest and your ear to your left shoulder
  • Rotate your head alternately 45° to the left and 45° to the right. You can help yourself by putting your hand on your head, but without effort. All movements should be very gentle
  • Hold the head at the extreme points for 20-30 seconds
9. All movements should be smooth and soft.

  • Get on all fours
  • Then start moving your left hand, palm up, into the space between your right hand and knees, rotating your torso until your head touches the floor
  • Hold this position for 30-40 seconds, then repeat for other side

7. Shoulder rotation

©Depositphotos. com

This movement relieves tension in the shoulders .

  • Stand or sit with your back and neck straight
  • Raise your shoulders up, then lower them back and down in a circular motion
  • Move smoothly, keeping your head close to your neck, forming a double chin

8.9002 Stretch arm over shoulder


This stretch is good not only for your biceps, but also for shoulders .

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Stretch your left arm across your chest to the right
  • Press your left elbow close to your body with your right hand
  • Stay in this position for 10-20 seconds, then repeat with the other arm
  • 5

cow head


This stretch targets many muscles, including shoulders .

  • Raise your left arm straight up, then bend it and put it behind your head
  • Put your right arm behind your back, reach your left hand and clasp your hands in the lock
  • Stay in this position for 10 seconds, then release your hands and start symmetrical execution exercises

If you cannot clasp your hands behind your back, use a towel. Hold it with the hand behind your head. With your other hand, reach for the towel, creating a gentle stretch.

10. Wall Arm Stretch


This stretch is great for tension in the shoulders .

  • Place your left hand against the wall. The palm may also be touching the wall or facing the ceiling
  • Press the shoulder against the wall
  • Turn the chest slightly away from the wall, creating a gentle stretch
  • Hold this position for 30-40 seconds and repeat with the other arm

11. Double front shoulder stretch


This is a very intense stretch for shoulders .

  • Stand up straight
  • Clasp your hands behind your back
  • Raise your arms until you feel a stretch
  • Hold this position for 30-40 seconds, repeat 3 times more
  • lean forward

Do you have any other proven neck and shoulder exercises? Tell us about them in the comments and share this article with your friends.

How to relieve tension in the neck and prevent pain

March 9, 2017Health

Working at a computer is almost always the wrong position of the back and the head stretched forward. Lifehacker shows exercises that will help stretch and relax stiff neck muscles, preventing pain and other problems with the cervical spine.

Iya Zorina

Author of Lifehacker, athlete, Candidate Master of Sports



When you work at a computer and even more so at a laptop, the neck, as a rule, moves forward.

This causes excessive tension in the neck muscles, which are forced to support the head in an unphysiological position.

When the head comes forward and the shoulders rise, the upper part of the trapezius muscle and the suboccipital muscles are tensed. The sternocleidomastoid muscle, on the contrary, stretches and loses its tone.

Over time, the muscles get used to being constantly in a tense state, so you can no longer relax them so easily.

Moreover, the collagen fibers of the fascia grow around the muscles and fix them in the wrong position: so that now it seems comfortable to you.

Tight neck muscles can cause hyperlordosis of the cervical spine, a condition where the neck is stretched forward excessively.

This, in turn, impairs blood circulation, can cause a herniated disc, cause pinched nerves, and other problems.

In order not to make yourself sick, stretch your neck muscles regularly by doing the exercises suggested. Some of them can be easily performed even at the workplace or in the car, for others you will need a ball, rug or expander. They can be done at home or at the gym.

Contraindications - severe pain in the neck or existing diseases of the cervical spine: hernia, pinched nerve or others. In this case, you need qualified medical assistance and recommendations from a physiotherapist.

1. Massage ball exercise

For this exercise you will need a small hard ball. There are special massage balls that can be ordered on Aliexpress, double or single. Instead, you can use a tennis ball or golf ball.

Massage balls

Lie down on a mat, place the ball under one side of your neck at the base of your head. Begin to lower your chin, trying to touch your chest. Do this 10 times and repeat with the other side of the neck.

Massage Ball Exercise

After this exercise, you can simply roll the ball up and down your neck if the muscles feel tight.

During the massage, you can feel the points where the muscle tension is especially strong. Such points will feel like tight lumps, which are quite painful to press with a ball. Work these areas well until the muscles become soft.

Do not roll the neck in the center, directly over the spine, roll the ball over the muscles of the neck on either side of it.

2. Standing Neck Stretch

Stand straight with one hand on the back of your head and the other on your chin. Pull the chin down and the back of the head up, the neck tends back.

Chin and Nape Hands Stretch

This exercise helps to stretch and relax the suboccipital and trapezius muscles.

3. Stretching the neck while sitting

Sit with your back against a wall. Pull the back of your head up, making a “double chin”. Hold this pose for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.

Wall Stretch

4. Neck Stretch Without Back Support

This exercise can be easily performed anywhere, such as at your desk. Sit on the edge of a chair and shift your body weight to the ischial tuberosities: this way the back will take a neutral position.

Reach up with the back of your head, making a “double chin”. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, repeat 3 times.

5. Hand stretch

Place one hand on your head and gently pull it sideways and forward. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 3 times on each side.

During this exercise, the trapezius muscles are well stretched.

Trapezius Stretch

6. Backward Stretch

The sternocleidomastoid muscle must now be stretched so that there is no imbalance.

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