November 30, 2011

Easy-to-do effective neck stretches | flexion and extension (perfect for computer and phone users)


Many, many people's necks are tight, and sometimes (often?) painful. Working at the computer, or driving, can increase this tension dramatically. A gentle stretch can make the world of difference to the comfort of this area.

This sequence uses hand support for the head, contractions to loosen tight muscles, and an innovative way to take the neck into extension without the rear neck muscles spasming.

The secret is to open the mouth wide; this relaxes a number of muscles at the front of the neck, allowing much easier movement.

Try this slowly and gently; your neck will thank you!

Read transcription

Kit Laughlin:

Hi, I'm going to show you the neck flexion and extension exercise off a chair, because for most people with neck problems it's the most comfortable way of doing it. I'm going to turn side on so that you can see all the details. My first suggestion is to sit up nice and straight. And this is partly an exercise in perception, as much as anything else. Take a breath in, and on a breath out let your head come forward like this. Now what you'll find is for most people you won't be able to touch your chin to your chest, but that's where we're going. So we feel what the sensation is like at the back of the neck, just making that movement slowly and gently. That could be, for some of you, that could be enough of a stretch right there. But if you want a bit more of a stretch, this is what you do.

You take another breath in, reach your hands up – just a couple of fingers from each hand – and place the fingers on the top of the highest part of your head, and with the arms hanging straight down like this let some of the weight of the fingers and the arms come on the back of the neck like this. And you'll see that that's brought the chin and the head further forward; the chin closer to the chest and the head further forward. Breathe and relax. And you'll notice that each time I breathe in, the head comes up slightly, and each time I breathe out it goes down into the stretch slightly further.

If that's enough of a stretch, to come out of it run your fingers over the front of your head like this, and lift the head up slowly using your fingers. If you do it like this, it will feel safe and it will be the most gentle way of moving yourself in and out of the stretch. So the second part of the stretch, we use a contraction and I'll talk you through this. So we take a breath in, on a breath out once again let the head go forward. And once again bring the two fingers up to the highest part of the head, and let the arms dangle straight down in front of you. And on the breath out again, take the head as far forward as you can. When you get to this point, rest there for breath or two, and then to use the contraction, you hold the head in this position firmly – o you're using both hands now – and you press the head backwards towards the starting position as though you were lifting the head up.

Press gently; you just want to feel the muscles activate, that's all. And I'm still pressing, and you count backwards yourself – three, two, one. Then you take the hands just lightly off the head like this. You take another breath in, and on a breath out you once again replace the hands and let some of the weight of the arms take the head further forward. You'll find that after doing the contraction, you'll be able to get the head further forward. And once you're in the new position, hold that there for a few breaths in and out. One more breath. And to come out, once again, run the fingers over the head and slowly lift the head up like so. And then to relieve any residual tension in the side of the neck here, turn the head to one side then to the other, like this, and lift the shoulders up and down. And by this stage, you should have a bit more movement in the neck forward, and feel a bit more relaxed at the back of the neck here.

Now I'm going to show you what I found to be the best and the safest way to extend the neck or to take the head backwards. Now most people with neck problems don't like to do this movement because they find that when they do tilt their head backwards on the neck, that the muscles at the back of the neck here you go into spasm. Now I'm going to show you a way of doing that which usually avoids that. But let me just explain why the neck goes into spasm normally. If I just turn side on for a second. When you tilt the head back like this, with the teeth closed, these muscles are not only tilting the head backwards on the neck, they're also stretching these muscles at the front of the neck, which are usually very tight.

So what we're going to do instead is we're going to have the mouth open as wide as possible, and then when we tilt the head back on the neck, you will find that these muscles – being relatively relaxed – will allow the head to move and the muscles at the back of the neck won't feel any discomfort at all. And with the mouth open wide slowly tilt the head backwards as far as you can. Then slowly, and I mean slowly, close the teeth like this. Then incline the head to one side, and you'll find that that stretches muscles on this side of the neck. Then come back to the middle and incline your head to the other side, and that stretches the muscles on the opposite side of the neck.

Then come back to the middle and see if you can take the head back a bit further. Then you close your teeth and then to finish the stretch off, once again, do a gentle little neck flexion exercise. Then again, shrug your shoulders and turn the head. And that part of the relaxation sequence can be done in either order. Shrugging the shoulders first feels best to you, do that, or turning the head; it doesn't matter. As long as once you finish the sequence, all these muscles are feeling better than before.


  • Thanks for slowing the process down and explaining why dropping the jaw down first before taking the neck into extension is beneficial. And, how finishing up with the neck flexion, lateral rotation, and shoulder shrug are good finishing movements.

    • Phoenix, unloading all of the anterior throat muscles by opening the jaw completely change this stretch – if you do it in the normal way, and those anterior neck muscles reach the end of their normal range of movement, then the posterior neck muscles very likely will cramp, and no one’s going to like the feeling of that!

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}