Stretches to Loosen a Stiff Back, Shoulders and Neck

by Jim Thomas, Demand Media
    Stretching can unstiffen an uncomfortable back.

    Stretching can unstiffen an uncomfortable back.

    Lots of situations can cause stiff or painful muscles. Perhaps you overdid it at the gym. Or you're stressed out, one of the bugaboos of modern life. Whether it's a new project at work that has to be completed yesterday, a sick child or unexpected bills that throw you for a financial loop, stress can creep in to tighten up muscles, especially in the neck, shoulders and back. Fortunately, there are some simple stretching exercises you can do almost anywhere, even at the office, to ease the pressure and enable you to move more comfortably.

    Shoulder Stretches

    If it seems the weight of the world is on your shoulders, there are stretches that can relieve at least some of the discomfort. MayoClinic.com recommends stretches that can be done at the office, or anywhere else, throughout the day. For example, stretch the back of your shoulder by placing one hand under your elbow. With your arm bent, pull your elbow across your chest without rotating your body. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. Another good stretch from "Yoga Journal" is a shoulder roll, which will relieve stiffness in your shoulders and upper back. Sitting upright, lift one shoulder to your ear and roll your shoulder around and back down. Alternate shoulders and then do the exercise with both shoulders at the same time.

    Neck Stretches

    "Yoga Journal" recommends a stretch that is particularly useful when your neck feels stiff or compressed. Sit upright and hold the side of a chair with your left hand. Breathe out and drop your right ear toward your right shoulder, without lifting the shoulder or turning your head, and hold. Alternate sides. For a deeper stretch, reach over with your right hand to the left side of your head and pull your neck gently away from your shoulders. Keep a firm hold on the chair with the left hand to draw the left shoulder away from the neck. Picture your neck lengthening as the muscles along your vertebrae relax.

    Back Exercises

    There are two simple back stretches recommended at the Spine-Health website that can increase mobility and suppleness if your back is stiff or sore. Lying on your back, perform a back flexion stretch by pulling both knees toward the chest while flexing your head forward until you feel a comfortable stretch. A knees-to-chest stretch is done with bent knees and both heels on the floor. Place both hands behind one knee and pull it toward the chest. Alternate legs and repeat five to 10 times.

    Considerations

    Stretching should be free from pain, according to Spine-Health. Don't try to force your body into uncomfortable positions. Bouncing during stretches is a no-no -- you could tear a muscle. Hold stretches long enough for muscles and joints to loosen, which generally takes 20 to 30 seconds. If you already have pain in your neck, shoulders or back, rather than just stiffness, check with your doctor or therapist before you embark on stretching exercises.

    About the Author

    Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.

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