Please Stop Stretching Your Neck!

David Liira

There's a much better & faster solution for your pain...
Photo by ROCKETMANN TEAM from Pexels

Are you struggling with excessive neck pain and soreness? You may be surprised to hear that stretching won’t help you all that much. While lengthening a muscle is often our first thought when discomfort arises, there is very little evidence to show that it will improve the root of your pain. Yes, stretching can feel good, but it may not be doing anything productive…there is a distinct difference.

Today we’ll look at why stretching is getting far too much credit, and introduce a couple of exercises and lifestyle adjustments that can give you some lasting pain relief. Just like with most physical injuries, one must take an active rehabilitation approach to truly find sustainable relief. Fortunately, you have everything you need to start this journey today!

Why do we struggle with neck pain?

One of the classic ‘neck’ stretches is the ear to shoulder stretch that lengthens the upper traps. While this movement won’t hurt you if you do it properly, your original pain/soreness will likely return shortly. This is because you’re not changing the make-up of the tissues around this area to better support your lifestyle. Stretching will lengthen the tissue momentarily, but your tissues will quickly return to their original position after you’re done.

Instead, we should focus on strengthening exercises that include the upper, mid, and lower traps. This way you can improve your postural endurance, control of the shoulder blades, balance of load, and more. Why focus on the traps in particular, however? Well, because life isn’t all that kind to them…

The upper traps are often hypertonic or extremely tight. This can be due to phone use, stress, carrying bags, lifting children, and more.

The mid traps are usually overlengthened due to rounding and protraction of the shoulders. This can be caused by poor ergonomics at work, postural rounding while driving, Instagramming, and more.

The lower traps are also typically lengthened and overstretched due to the habits above.

So in summary, we have upper traps that are overfiring and doing most of the work, while the mid and lower traps are failing to keep the scapulae in a comfortable, sustainable position. This combination can quickly result in the neck and upper back pain that so many of us struggle with. While this isn’t the only reason why you may have pain here, it’s certainly one of the most common. Fortunately, it’s also one of the most preventable.

Using two strategies to overcome neck pain.

1) Lifestyle Adjustments

There are a few physical activity principles in life that virtually everyone should follow. Sticking to these will help you reduce general soreness and aches/pains that mar your everyday life. While this isn’t an ‘end-all-be-all’ list, following the 5 strategies below will make a huge difference for your outcomes.

  1. When sitting or lying throughout the day, try changing your position at least every 30 minutes to avoid excessive sedentary behavior.
  2. Take your work ergonomics seriously. If you have a desk job, finding the right monitor height for your posture and chair for your anatomy can make all the difference. Even if there is a monetary investment involved, it will be worth every penny!
  3. Avoid the awkward, lazy positions that many people find themselves in. For example, avoid using your phone in bed or slouching on the couch for extended periods.
  4. Find ways to decrease your stress levels. Make an effort to do something every day that allows you to find some space. This could look like a forest walk, meditation session, or listening to some relaxing music.
  5. Start doing some strength exercises for your postural muscles like the ones found below!

2) Strength Exercises

The great thing about postural-based trap exercises is that they rarely require equipment. All you need for the two movements below is a towel or pillow and a little bit of floor space. For the best results, try moving through these 4–5 days per week. While you may not feel immediate results, the consistent application of these movements over several weeks can make a huge difference.

Mid-Trap Strengthening
Image from Physiotec

Application: 10–15 reps x 2

Cues: Lie on the floor with your head resting on a mat or pillow. Bring your arms up to about 90 degrees before you start your first rep. Next, raise your elbows and hands off of the floor while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold this retracted position for 1–2 seconds and then reset for your next rep.

I/Y/W Raises
Image from Physiotec

Application: 12–15 reps x 2

Cues: The same cues and tempo apply for this second exercise as well. This time, however, you’re cycling through 3 positions with your arms: I, Y, and W. The variation in position will allow you to train the mid and lower traps while working on control of the scapulae. As you move through each rep, ensure that the neck stays completely relaxed! Take deep breaths.

A quick note on progressions: If you ever feel like you’re not getting challenged enough by these exercises, you can add a pair of light dumbbells (3–5lbs).

In closing,

If you’re struggling with neck or upper back pain, simply stretching your traps isn’t going to cut it. While this may provide temporary relief, you won’t be challenging your tissues enough to make real change.

If you want to find sustainable pain relief, it’s time to take an active rehabilitation approach through postural/strength exercises. If you can consistently perform the two movements above while subtly adjusting your lifestyle habits, you can improve your pain in a matter of days!

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Kinesiologist & Blogger. 15k+ followers. Dedicated to writing relevant, up-to-date pieces on health and the human condition. My job (and joy) is to save you time and money by delivering the tools you need to take control of your own wellbeing.


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