Man with tension in the neck

How to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders

Tension in your neck and shoulders can be down to your day to day posture, prior injury or poor technique when working out1. This can cause unnecessary discomfort, pain and weakness that can result in limited movement where simple tasks can become challenging. If left the tightness can worsen and even cause tension headaches. If you’re already struggling and need help with pain relief try a supplement designed to help reduce muscle and joint pain before working on tension relieving exercises.

What can cause tension?

Tension can be brought on by a number of factors, including:

  • Poor posture either learned or brought on from looking at screens etc. that are not well positioned
  • Stress where you can involuntary tense your shoulders and neck for a long period of time
  • Prior injury from overtraining or not training correctly. Also from day to day activities (e.g. carrying too heavy a load)
You can also be affected more depending on your age and if you have additional health complications such as arthritis.2

Ways to relieve tension

The following exercises can help alleviate tension in the shoulders and neck.

  • Neck stretches – Looking forward, very gently tilt your head sideways moving your ear towards your shoulder. Move only as far as you’re able without straining. Repeat the opposite way and work up to three times on each side3.

  • Shoulder rolls – Whilst standing or sitting roll your shoulders up, back and down in one direction before changing to the other direction. This should be completed at least 10 times in each direction4.

  • Shoulder raises - With a neutral spine, and your shoulders back slowly lift your shoulders towards your ears. Hold for a few second before lowering them back down. Repeat at least 5 times5.

  • Cross body arm swings – Standing with feet hip width apart lift your arms to the side and squeeze your shoulder blades. Bring your arms in gently swinging one under the other and back out again. Repeat at least 10 times6.

  • Cross body shoulder stretch – Bring one arm straight across your body and then hook your other arm over the forearm or above the elbow. Feel the stretch for 20 seconds before repeating on the opposite side7.
Yoga is also extremely beneficial for reducing stress and tension and increasing flexibility8. The following poses are particularly focused on the shoulders and back.

  • Cat cow pose – A great pose for wakening the spine. Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. As you inhale, slowly tilt your tail bone to the sky and lift your chest before exhaling and tucking your chin and rounding your back. Continue for at least 5 long breaths9.

  • Childs pose - Start by kneeling on the ground and spread your knees apart. Lift your arms as you inhale and then on exhale lower them to the ground creating a curve in your spine. Sit your tail bone back towards your heels and feel the stretch. Hold for at least one minute if possible10.

  • Cow face pose – Lift one arm overhead and then down to your back with the other reaching down and behind your back. Bring the hands as close together without straining and take several deep breaths before repeating on the other side11.

How to prevent further tension

Regular exercise and stretching will keep the shoulder loose and stop them becoming tight again. Reducing stress levels and practicing correct posture will also help alleviate and prevent tension in the long term.

Last updated: 29 April 2020