Releasing neck muscles

Tension in Neck and Shoulders From Anxiety: 5 Home Remedies

The areas where you’re likely to feel stress or anxiety-related tension are in your neck and shoulders. Over time, this can lead to chronic pain as well as other health issues.

Fortunately, muscle tension in your neck and shoulders responds well to stretching, yoga, relaxation, and other stress management methods.

Let’s explore several simple techniques you can use to help release tension in your neck and shoulders, as well as some stress management strategies to help calm your mind and body.

When you experience a stressful event or a bout of anxiety, your muscles contract, sometimes forcefully. This is an automatic or reflex reaction. It’s known as a stress response or “fight or flight” response.

It’s your body’s way of gearing up to face a perceived physical threat that you’ll need to fight off or run away from. Along with muscle tension, you may also notice other physical symptoms when you’re stressed or anxious, such as:

  • a fast heart rate
  • quick, shallow breathing
  • cold skin
  • sweating

Although your body’s stress response is designed to help you deal with physical threats, your body responds in the same way when the threat isn’t physical. Your muscles may tighten up when you’re stuck in traffic, dealing with pressure at work, or watching the news.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), your muscles and other organs may only relax again once the perceived threat has passed.

If stress is ongoing — meaning the stressful situation doesn’t seem to have a clear end — your body may stay in a heightened state of readiness to face a threat. As a result, your muscles may stay tense and tight for much longer than they need to.

According to the APA, ongoing muscle tension in your neck and shoulders can lead to more serious issues like back and shoulder pain, body aches, and migraine and tension headaches.

Preventing stress-related neck and shoulder tension isn’t always easy to do, especially in today’s busy world. But, there are techniques and strategies that may help relieve muscle tension and ease pain and discomfort.

Here are five stretches and poses you can do on a daily basis to help relieve tension and tightness in your neck and shoulders.

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The neck stretch is a deep stretch that eases tension in your neck and helps improve your range of motion.

  1. Stand tall with your left arm at your side.
  2. Place your right hand on your head with your fingers pointing to the left side.
  3. Gently pull your head toward the right side until you feel a stretch in the left side of your neck.
  4. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and return to center.
  5. Repeat on left side.
  6. Do 2 to 3 times on each side.

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The neck release is a gentle way to loosen tension in both your shoulders and neck.

  1. Stand tall with both arms at your sides.
  2. Lower your head and bring your chin toward your chest.
  3. Gently tilt your head towards the right side and pause for 30 seconds. You should feel a stretch in the left side of your neck.
  4. Bring your head back to the center and lift to the starting position.
  5. Repeat before changing sides.
  6. Do 3 to 5 times on each side.

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Child’s Pose or Balasana is a well-known yoga pose that can help relieve neck and back pain. It’s also a gentle stretch that helps you relax.

  1. Get on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips.
  2. Sit back on your heels, lengthen your spine, and walk your hands in front of you. Make sure to hinge at your hips.
  3. Fold forward and keep your arms extended in front of you.
  4. Hold this position for 60 to 90 seconds. Focus on your breath while you release tension in your neck and shoulders.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat.
  6. Do 2 to 3 times.

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The Cat-Cow or Chakravakasana is a yoga pose that allows you to stretch your back, torso, and neck, helping to release tension in these areas.

  1. Get on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips.
  2. Inhale and move into Cow Pose. Drop your belly towards the mat and lift your chin and chest. Look up at the ceiling. Open your chest and shoulders. Pause for a few seconds.
  3. Exhale and move into Cat Pose. Pull your belly toward your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. You should be looking down at the mat. Pause for a few seconds.
  4. Inhale and come back into Cow Pose and repeat the sequence.
  5. Do 10 to 12 times.

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Thread the needle is a stretch that helps release tension in your back, neck, and shoulders.

  1. Get on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips.
  2. Slide your right hand (palm up) on the floor to the left side of your body. Your body will rotate with the movement, and your right shoulder will touch the floor as you look to the left side. Use your left hand to support your weight.
  3. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat on the left side.
  5. Do 2 to 3 times on each side.

Yoga is an excellent activity to help release stress-related tension in your neck and shoulders. In fact, one study found that 9 weeks of yoga resulted in pain relief and functional improvements in people with neck pain.

There are also some other strategies you can use to help relieve or prevent tension in your neck. For instance you can:

  • Apply a warm compress to the tight area.
  • Spend a few minutes doing a self-massage.
  • Soak in a warm tub, and add a few drops of aromatherapy oil for extra relaxation.
  • Adjust your workstation, so your computer is at eye level to avoid neck strain.
  • Check your posture while you’re at your work desk — keep your hips, shoulders, and ears in a straight line.
  • Get up and move away from your workstation for a few minutes every hour.
  • At night, use a pillow that offers good support for your neck, and is designed to keep your head and neck aligned.

We all experience stress. It’s almost impossible not to feel anxious or stressed at some point or another. But, just as your body has an automatic response to stress, it also has a built-in system to calm you down.

Known as the relaxation response, it helps you recover from the “fight or flight” response. It brings all your systems back to normal and returns your body to a calm, resting state. The relaxation response also helps protect your body from health issues related to the stress response.

There are a variety of skills and strategies you can use to help the relaxation response kick in. Here are some of them:

Stress management skills
  • Exercise and physical activity. Moving your body, even for 20 minutes a day, may help lower your overall stress levels and reduce tension in your muscles. If you can, get outdoors and take a brisk walk in nature.
  • Breathing exercises. Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is one of the simplest ways to relax. Voluntarily controlling your breathing can signal your entire body to relax. With belly breathing, you breathe in deeply through your nose, allowing your belly to expand, and exhale through your mouth. Once you know how to breathe this way, you can use this skill often to help you relax.
  • Yoga. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, mind and body practices like yoga can help relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and boost your overall well-being. If you’re new to yoga, you may want to begin with a 10-minute restorative yoga session.
  • Meditation. Research has shown that practicing meditation may help reduce the inflammation response caused by stress, and also decrease anxiety. Start with 5 minutes of meditation at a time, and increase by a few minutes each week.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). According to a 2013 study, PMR can help reduce symptoms of chronic neck pain. To do PMR, simply tense each muscle group in your body one at a time, and hold for 5 seconds. On the exhale, relax the muscles for 10 to 20 seconds before moving to the next muscle group.

Keep in mind that as with any new skill, regular practice is the key. These practices may not work for you right away and that’s OK. But, as you use them over time, you’ll likely find that they help return your body to a calmer, more restful state.

Tension and tightness in your neck and shoulders is a common symptom of stress and anxiety. It’s part of your body’s way of gearing up to survive a perceived physical threat. In other words, it’s part of the “fight or flight” stress response.

Fortunately, muscle tension in your neck and shoulders responds well to several different techniques, including targeted stretching, yoga, and other relaxation methods.

However, if the pain in your neck or shoulders is severe, or doesn’t improve with stretches or other self-care techniques, make sure to follow up with your doctor.

The 2 Muscles That Matter Most

There are various types of pain, but neck pain is the most common in Americans. It can be a stiff neck, pain in your shoulders and upper back when waking up, or simply a limited range of motion. Whether the discomfort arises from chronic stiffness or the residual effects from an accident, neck pain has a way of interfering with various aspects of your life.

If you've been experiencing neck pain for a significant portion of your life, you've probably learned how to manage it using neck stretches occasionally, especially in the morning. You may think that neck stretches for pain are effective, but you'll be surprised to learn it may actually not be the best plan of action.

You probably have several questions regarding this, considering the routine has been working thus far for you. So how could it be that we are telling you neck stretches aren't enough? For the record, this isn't meant to encourage you to get rid of your stretching routine completely. Instead, it's intended to inform you that stretching alone won't help you get rid of the chronic pain you feel.

Anytime people feel some neck tightness, the first impulse is to try stretching. Sometimes it may work, but other times you experience zero results. Here is everything you need to know about why neck stretches aren't enough and the two muscles that matter when dealing with neck tightness.

Causes of neck tension

The neck has several flexible muscles that work to hold the weight of your head. If overused, these muscles can get irritated or injured. Neck tension, therefore, refers to pain in the neck that develops when the neck muscles are unable to relax, leading to muscle spasms, soreness, and even headaches.

Studies state that more than 70% of adults experience neck tension during their lifetime. Depending on the cause, people experience varying types of neck tension which have different symptoms. The brain relays electrical signals to trigger some muscle movement. In response, the muscles will either relax or contract depending on the message the brain relayed.

Neck tension occurs when a muscle in the neck remains contracted despite the brain telling it to relax. If the muscle remains contracted for an extended period, it leads to pain. People develop neck tension for several reasons, including:

Postural problems

Poor posture is a huge contributor to neck tension. People who slouch in their chair or hunch over their computer all day may notice some tension in the neck after some time. A 2016 study found a direct correlation between a forward head posture and neck pain.

Poor posture causes the weight of the head to shift away from the center of the body and forward. This then forces the neck muscles to work harder to hold the head, instead of being naturally supported by the spine. Slouching causes the head to move forward, forcing the neck to bend, thus overextending the muscles in the back of the neck. With time, this results in inflammation or pain.

Teeth grinding

Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, is when a person clenches or bites their teeth while sleeping. This then puts pressure on the neck and the jaw muscles, thus causing neck tension and pain. In other cases, it causes headaches.

Repetitive neck movements

People who engage in activities that require repetitive motion throughout the day may acquire Repetitive Motion Disorders (RMD). The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines repetitive motion disorders as a group of muscular conditions that arise from repetitive motions done in the course of daily activities or everyday work.

They are caused by unnatural motions such as incorrect posture or twisting of the arm or wrist. RMDs usually affect people who work in the assembly line, such as meatpacking, computer work, or sewing. Although they typically happen in the hands, shoulders, and wrists, they may also affect the neck. If not treated immediately, RMDs can result in inflammation, swelling, or tissue damage in severe cases.


Injuries may occur in the neck muscles if a person lifts heavy weights or experiences whiplash due to an accident. Such injuries can result in mild to severe muscle strains and, if left untreated, may lead to persistent neck pain.


Whenever the brain picks up on stress, it signals the body to release several hormones that increase heart rate and tighten muscles. For someone who experiences frequent anxiety, the muscles tend to remain contracted for a long time, thus resulting in neck tension.

Tension in pec minor

The pec minor or pectoralis minor starts from the ribs and attaches itself to the front of the shoulder blade. It has a significant effect on how the shoulder blade positions itself. The pec minor is very vulnerable and gets tight with a slumped posture. A tight pec minor leads to a forward tipped shoulder blade resulting in a rounded shoulder position.

If you catch sight of yourself from the side, and your shoulders are rounded forward, creating a rounded upper back and outstretched neck, the culprit is your pec minor muscles. Relaxing these muscles will help bring your body back into upright alignment.

If the shoulder blades are pulled forward, the spine will curve, forcing the neck to extend so that the head can continue pointing forward. This leads to a strain on the neck and leads to tightening of the neck muscles.

The difference between stretching and pressing a muscle

Stretching and pressing a muscle are two different techniques that people use whenever they feel some muscle tightness. They are both ways of addressing muscle tightness. When stretching a muscle, you're elongating it by undertaking a particular movement with your body. If, for example, you do an upper back stretch, your brain signals the body to release some tension. With continuous stretching, the brain reprograms the signals so that you can stretch a bit further every time by warming the muscle-up.

When you put prolonged pressure on a muscle, it will increase circulation and inhibit the contraction of muscle fibers. Holding the muscle in one place for a long time without any motion results in the brain signaling the particular muscle to relax. Prolonged pressure is vital for releasing muscle tension in areas where you're experiencing muscle knots.

Tight muscles require pressure

Although stretching your neck feels like a great way of releasing muscle tension, it's not always the best approach. Stretching is an excellent way of increasing motion, circulation and informing the muscle how it can repair itself after a workout. However, stretching might only do the bare minimum if your muscle has tension (is contracted). Your muscles will elongate, but when you rest, the muscle tightness returns. If you're looking for a good way of getting your muscles to relax, apply prolonged pressure.

If you introduce pressure on the area with a finger or tool, the brain will respond by releasing pain signals at first. After some time of prolonged pressure (preferably 90 seconds), the muscle will start to relax in a long-term way without worrying about the muscle knot returning. This technique is way more effective in releasing muscle tension and muscle knots compared to massaging and stretching.

Tools for tight necks

You'll need a tool to provide specific angular pressure to reach and release these spots to relax the neck. Because you need to apply prolonged pressure, you want something anatomically-shaped to access these muscles (not something round!) that isn't going to slide or roll, that can handle pressure, and is able to adapt to your body and isolate these small yet mighty muscles.

We recommend the Nuckle: It's designed by a PT to release, relax, and realign the neck and shoulders. With three widths and six angles, it can adjust to everybody and apply clinically effective specific pressure to relax tight muscles and reduce pain.

Frequently asked questions about neck pain and neck tightness

What causes a stiff neck?

Oftentimes, a stiff neck is caused by contracted muscles (usually the suboccipitals) that won’t relax. Overtime, these muscles pull the adjacent structures out of alignment. The root cause can be poor posture, created by tension in the pec minor muscles.  

How do I get rid of a stiff neck?

Releasing two key muscle groups can help with neck stiffness: the suboccipitals at the base of the skull and pec minor muscles in the chest. The best way to relax these muscles is to apply direct, prolonged pressure to the muscles with a tool that can access these hard-to-reach muscles.

How do I treat a stiff neck in 60 seconds?

Focus on these two muscles: pec minor in the chest and the suboccipitals at the base of the skull. Apply precise, prolonged pressure to these muscles for at least 30-90 seconds to allow the muscles to release. Rubbing back and forth can aggravate these muscles, and stretching only provides temporary relief.

How to relax your back and neck

Stress, sitting at the computer for many hours and carrying heavy weights can provoke muscle pinching and cause pain in the neck, shoulders and back. We tell you how to help yourself on your own in the midst of a working day.

VOICE edition

Every day we face many dangers on the back, shoulders and neck. Even hidden stress can lead to the development of many diseases, from the most primitive clamps to osteochondrosis and spinal hernia. The main cause of many problems with the spine is associated with muscle spasms, and in the most advanced state, this is fraught with blockade of the intervertebral discs.

Do not self-medicate! In our articles, we collect the latest scientific data and the opinions of authoritative health experts. But remember: only a doctor can diagnose and prescribe treatment.

A feeling of excessive tension in the shoulders, back and neck can be provoked by awkward body movements, stooping, staying in an uncomfortable position for a long time, hypothermia, past infection and a number of similar causes that have a negative impact.

The primary pathology is a strong overstrain: the intervertebral discs can be in a clamped state for a long time, squeezing the nerve endings. The feeling of fatigue and pain can be of different intensity, depending on the individual characteristics of the body and the degree of overstrain.

The most vulnerable areas are the roots of the spinal cord and autonomic nerves, they are the most sensitive to overvoltage. Spasmodic muscles compress nerve fibers and blood vessels, which disrupts nutrition in the tissues, and static tension is aggravated by stress and even a minor cold. At the height of the working day, the neck and muscles of the shoulder girdle primarily need local relaxation. Daily warm-up and self-massage can save the body from many serious complications, so it is recommended to set aside at least 5-10 minutes for regular mini-workouts that will help relax cramped muscles.

To do this, use the following recommendations:

1. Breathing exercises are a convenient method for relieving tension in the muscles of the back and shoulders, even at the workplace. Inhale - tension, exhale - relaxation, then inhale without tension, and as you exhale, concentrate on relaxing a specific part of the body.

2. Tighten the most spasmodic area, hold the tension for 20-30 seconds, and then relax while exhaling.

3. Try to pass a feeling of bodily relaxation through the tense area of ​​the back, neck or shoulders: take the most comfortable position and try to make the muscles completely cottony.

4. Massage of tense areas of the body is mandatory: if there is no one who can do it, knead the closed muscles yourself. Try the technique of point deep pressure, vibration massage, massage roller. Slightly pull the skin in the problem area and rub the place of maximum tension.

5. Try a massage with an ice cube, but on the condition that the spinal nerves have not been clogged before: sometimes the application of cold is fraught with aggravation of the situation. Rub the tense area of ​​the back or shoulders with slow movements, moving clockwise. It is very important to move the ice cube in a circle: this increases blood circulation, thanks to which the cells are saturated with oxygen faster. The action of ice causes vasoconstriction followed by a sharp expansion, which leads to a general relaxation of the muscles.

6. If the back, neck or shoulders are in a painful condition for more than three days, it is worth trying the heat treatment. Try making a ten-minute compress with a towel soaked in warm water. From above, cover the body area with a plastic bag and a dry towel for the best preservation of the greenhouse effect. Try to do warm compresses every day.

7. In order to properly relax the muscles of the back, neck and shoulders, use stretching exercises. Just 5-10 minutes a day will help improve the condition of the muscle frame. Try to stretch while sitting with your arms raised, as if trying to reach the ceiling with your fingertips, without looking up from your seat.

8. To relax your neck, perform gentle tilts and turns of your head for five minutes every hour: forward-backward, left-right. Also, to relax the cervical region, this exercise is suitable: tilt your head back in a sitting position and, as it were, stretch the muscles of the neck, moving the jaw up and down.

9. Sitting at a computer for a long time spoils even the most even back, and the feeling of a heavy load periodically falls even on athletic and hardy shoulders. In order to relieve tension and relax your muscles in the right way, give up your usual posture at your desk for a while: change your high chair to a lower one or redo the entire workspace to create the most new conditions for your body.

6 exercises to relax your back and neck after a day's work

August 15, 2019

If you spend a lot of time sitting at the computer, then the lack of movement must be compensated daily.

Simple exercises that do not require significant physical effort will help you relieve tension from a tired back and neck. You can perform them at home after a working day, and the result will replace your professional massage therapist!

1. Head tilt

Sit on a chair. Place your right hand on top of your head and tilt your head slightly to the right, keeping your back straight. Hold for 30-40 seconds, slowly return to the starting position. Repeat 5 times for each side.

Why: helps relieve tension in the neck.

2. “Cat”

Get on all fours and lean on your hands. As you exhale, arch your back as much as possible, lower your head. On an inhale, bend down and lift your head up. Repeat 10 times.

Why: Stretches the muscles of the back and neck, helps to avoid slouching.

3. Lean towards the wall

Stand facing a wall two steps away from it. Place your feet hip-width apart. Lean forward and place your hands on the wall. An angle of 90° should form between the body and legs. Straighten and stretch the spine as much as possible; stay in this position for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 5 times.

Why: stretches the back, improves posture.

4. Butterfly wings

Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows, throw them behind your head and interlock your fingers at the back of your head. Extend your elbows as much as possible. As you inhale, open your arms to the sides and stretch your chest forward. As you exhale, put your hands behind your head again and bend your back back. Feel the tension in the muscles. Repeat 5 times.

Why: restores the correct position of the spine.

5. Chair Crunches

Sitting upright in a chair, gently turn your torso and shoulders to the side. To increase the amplitude and turn around more strongly, grab the back of the chair with your nearest hand. Hold for 15-20 seconds. Repeat 5 times for each side.

Why: relieves back pain, straightens the spine.

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