9 Exercises to Relieve Neck and Shoulder Pain
Open Book | 5 reps per side
Start by lying on your side with your knees bent in front of your hips and hands over your ears, elbows pointing forward. Inhale and reach the top elbow to the ceiling, looking up at the elbow point. Exhale and continue to open the top elbow to the backside until it touches the floor or an elevated prop such as a pillow (to decrease range of motion). Stay for a full inhale and exhale, relaxing your shoulders, inhale again, then exhale and return to the starting position.
Tip: Keep your knees stacked and resting on the floor; move slowly and imagine that you are unwinding the top half of your spine.
Thoracic Extension | 3-5 reps
Start seated on the floor with your mid back resting on a foam roller or a rolled-up bath towel. Support the head in the hands, elbows wide, and keep the feet on the floor. Inhale to prepare. Exhale and slowly extend your spine back over the roller, only moving as far as you need to until you feel a gentle stretch in the upper back, chest and abdominals. Inhale to hold. Exhale and return to the starting position, using your abdominals.
Tip: Start with a small range of motion and gently increase this over time; you should feel no discomfort in your low back during this exercise.
Head Tilt | 2 min
Start in a comfortable seated or kneeling position, with the head stacked directly above the shoulders and the arms resting by the sides. Inhale to prepare. Exhale and slowly and gently lower the left ear towards the left shoulder, only so far as you need to feel the beginning of the stretch. Inhale to hold. Exhale and return to the top. Repeat to the left side, pausing on the inhale breath and moving on the exhale. Next, exhale and turn your head to look over the right shoulder. Inhale and return to the center. Exhale, look over the left shoulder. Continue to slowly alternate between each position.
Tip: There are many small muscles to stretch between positions A and B. Take your time throughout the movement phase to gently release each muscle.
Neck Roll | 3 circles per side
Start in a comfortable seated or kneeling position, with the head stacked directly above the shoulders and the arms resting by the sides. Inhale to prepare. Exhale and slowly and gently lower the left ear towards the left shoulder, and then take the chin towards the chest. Inhale as you continue to circle, taking the right ear towards the right shoulder, and finishing by stacking the head above the shoulders in your starting position. Reverse the circle.
Tip: Match the pace of movement to your slow breaths, exploring each position as you transfer through it.
Shoulder Shrug | 10 reps
Start in a comfortable seated or kneeling position, with the head stacked directly above the shoulders and the arms resting by the sides. Inhale and lift the shoulders up towards the ears. Exhale and return them down, feeling the blades settle on the back.
Tip: This move strengthens and releases the muscles in the upper back.
Kneeling Arm Circle | 3-5 reps per arm
Start in a high kneeling position or seated on a chair, with the head stacked directly above the shoulders and the arms resting by the sides, palms facing in and thumb forward. Inhale, reach the left arm straight up to the ceiling, and pause. Exhale, rotate the palm away from your body, and continue to circle the arm until it is back down by the hip, palm facing out and baby finger forward. Inhale and begin to reverse the circle, stretching the arm behind you and up to the ceiling. Pause, then exhale, rotate the palm back to the body, stretch the arm all the way forward and return it down by your side, palm facing in.
Tip: Really stretch out through your arm as you make this circle, taking up as much space in the room as you can; keep your head, neck, and hips relaxed.
Wing Span | 2 min
Start in a high kneeling position or seated on a chair, with the head stacked directly above the shoulders and the arms stretched directly out to the side, in line with the shoulders, palms forward. Inhale to prepare. For one long exhale: reach the arm up overhead, palm forward; the left arm down by your hip, palm back; bend the elbows and reach the fingers towards each other at the center of your back. Stay for a full inhale and exhale. Inhale again to return to the starting position. Exhale to repeat on the other side. Continue slowly alternating between each position.
Tip: It doesn’t matter if you can’t touch your fingertips, because over time you will be able to!
Scapula Slide | 10-15 reps
Start on all fours, wrists under shoulder and knees under hips, with a long flat back. You must press firmly into your palms and fingertips to feel the engagement through your mid-back. Keeping the elbows STRAIGHT, inhale and slide the shoulder blades (scapula) together (you’ll feel as if you’re dropping your chest to the floor). Exhale, press into the hands, and return to the starting position.
Tip: You must keep your elbows straight! If this is challenging to do on all fours, stand up and place your hands against the wall to perform the exercise.
Neck Retractions | 6-8 reps
Start by lying on your back, knees bent, arms down by the side, and the eyes straight up to the ceiling. Inhale, gently jut the chin forward to the ceiling, while keeping the back of the head on the floor. Exhale, retract the chin in towards the throat, and feel the back of the neck lengthen.
Tip: Don’t jut the chin forward too much; it’s a small move. Focus on lengthening the neck against the floor during the retraction phase.
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