Stretches to Relieve Back and Neck Pain

The bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons in your body are designed to move. Sitting for long periods of time in one position, physical activity and injuries can create stiffness in the back and neck, limiting mobility of the bone and muscle structure, which can result in back or neck pain.

What you need to relieve back or neck pain may not be medication or a specific treatment, but something as simple as stretching. Stretches that encourage mobility in the back and neck are often some of the best pain-relievers.


When stretching, remember to stretch slowly, without bouncing; hold stretches for 20 to 30 seconds to allow muscles and joints to loosen and do not force your body into a difficult or painful position.

Upper back and neck stretches

Often tight, tense muscles in your upper back and shoulder area can lead to pain in the neck. To relieve neck pain, try these stretches:

  • Neck flexion – To improve flexion in your neck, gently bend your head forward, bringing your chin to your chest until you begin to feel the stretch in your neck and shoulder area. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and release. This exercise can be completed standing or sitting up straight.
  • Neck extension – Gently lean your head back, lowering it as far as you can without pain.
  • Lateral flexion – To stretch your lower neck below the ears and upper shoulder area, gently bend your head to one side, as If trying to touch your shoulder with your ear. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and then switch to the other side.
  • Rotation – Slowly turn your head to the left until your chin is close to your left shoulder. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and gently and slowly turn your head to the right until your chin is close to your right shoulder. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Shoulder shrugs – Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for 2 to 3 seconds. Slowly rotate your shoulders back until you feel a stretch in your chest. ┬áRelax and repeat 10 times.

Back stretches

If your back pain is caused by tension in your back muscles, these stretches may help relieve that pain:

  • Knees to chest – Lie on your back and pull both knees in toward your chest. Flex your head forward until you are in a comfortable ball position. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and release.
  • Hamstring stretch – While standing with feet together and legs straight, gently bend forward at the waist and try to touch your toes with your hands. Do not strain to reach your toes — when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, hold for 20 to 30 seconds and release.
  • Side bend stretch – While standing, hold your hands at your side with proper posture. Lift the right arm over your right ear, with the palm facing down and bend to your left at the waist. Do not twist your torso. Reach your right hand down your left leg toward your left foot. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Practicing proper posture is another simple key in relieving back and neck pain. As the day goes on, think about your posture. Stand up straight, with your shoulders pulled back. To adjust your posture, slide your head backward until you have the feeling of a double chin. When the head hangs forward, the weight of your head can create stress and tension in your neck, shoulders and upper back.

If you are experiencing back or neck pain, or experience any pain while performing these stretches, consult with your doctor.

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