Now that we have discussed (in Part 1) a routine for stretching your neck within the normal ranges of motion, we can now get more specific. In this article, I’d like to talk about two muscles that I commonly need to prescribe stretches for. Remember, this does not address every individual. Please talk to your health care provider about any new exercise program. Most often, it is not enough to only stretch. Posture, strength and stability should be considered with all exercise programs. See this article to understand my perspective regarding goals of treatment and exercise programs.
The levator scapulae muscles, on both sides, lift the shoulder blades toward the ears and also assists with neck rotation and side bending. During initial assessments, I find that this muscle tends to be tight and sore very frequently, which is often caused from stress or poor posture. Levator muscle strain is also frequently associated with whiplash injuries. Tightness can lead to neck pain, headaches and upper back or shoulder pain. When these muscles are stretched, your shoulders are allowed to drop and relax. Neck mobility can also be improved by adding this stretch to the program mentioned in Part 1.
Here is an example of a levator scapulae stretch: Sitting tall with good posture, grasp the back edge of a chair with the hand of the side to be stretched. Turn your head to the opposite side and flex your head forward. Think: “nose to elbow”. Let your body lean to feel a stretch in the back and side of your lower neck.
The trapezius muscle is a very large, complex muscle with many actions. The muscle begins at the neck and bottom of the head and attaches to the shoulder blade, collarbone, and the thoracic spine. It’s main actions are to move the shoulder blade and move the spine. In regards to neck motion, the trapezius helps extend the head backwards and assists with lateral bending and rotation. A common example of repetitive strains to the upper portion of the trapezius muscle is spending all day talking on the phone with your head bent to one side. Poor posture and whiplash are other examples for causes of trapezius muscle tightness and soreness.
This stretch targets mainly the upper component of the muscle, but is a common one that I prescribe. Sitting tall, grasp the back edge of a chair with the hand of the side to be stretched. Turn your head toward the same side and lean your head and body away to feel a stretch in the side of the neck.
Please remember to perform stretches gradually and gently. Do not force to ‘get a better stretch’. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds and breathe throughout the motion. Please see Part 1 and Part 3 for more neck stretches. Comment below if you have any questions.
Examples provided are courtesy of Phases Rehab exercise prescription software.
Dr. Chris Enns, B.Sc., D.C. has been a Winnipeg chiropractor since 2005. He is the owner of Balance Chiropractic and Wellness Centre, located at 121 St. Anne’s Rd in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Services include: chiropractic, massage therapy, athletic therapy, orthotics, spinal decompression therapy, laser therapy, x-ray services, and health and fitness consulting.