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How to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders

16 Mar 2023 • 9 min read

Tension in your neck and shoulders can be down to your day-to-day posture, prior injury, or poor technique when working out.1

This can cause unnecessary discomfort 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 additional help, try a supplement designed to help with muscle and joint pain before working on tension relieving exercises.

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What can cause tension?

Tension can be brought on by several 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) 
  • Sleeping in an awkward position You can also be affected more depending on your age and if you have additional health complications such as arthritis.

5 ways to relieve tension in your neck and shoulders

The following exercises can help alleviate tension in the shoulders and neck:3,4,5

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 side.

Shoulder rolls

Whilst standing or sitting, roll your shoulders up, back ,and down in one direction before changing to the other direction.

Shoulder raises

With a neutral spine and your shoulders back, slowly lift your shoulders towards your ears. Hold for a few seconds before lowering them back down. Repeat at least 5 times.

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 times.

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 side.

Yoga poses to help ease tension

Yoga is also extremely beneficial for reducing stress and tension and increasing flexibility.6

The following poses are particularly focused on the shoulders and back.

  1. 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 breaths.
  2. Child’s 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 possible.
  3. 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 side.9

How to prevent tension

Now you know how to relieve tension in your neck and shoulder muscles, you might be wondering about any preventative measures you could take. These include things like:10

  • Ensuring your head is on the same level as the rest of your body when sleeping. 
  • Using a firm mattress. 
  • Regular exercise and stretching to help keep your shoulders loose and stop them becoming tight again. In fact, one study found that regular stretching may help with neck and shoulder discomfort, and even improve neck function for office workers with chronic neck issues.11
  • Reducing stress levels and practicing correct posture to help alleviate and prevent tension in the long term. 
  • Try acupuncture, as some studies have shown that when used in conjunction with neck exercises, it can help ease discomfort.12,13

The final say

Incorporating some neck and shoulder stretches into your daily routine is a good idea if you experience discomfort in the area. But if you’re looking for a complete overview, check out our guide to muscle health which teaches you all the essentials.




1. https://www.issaonline.com/blog/index.cfm/2018/how-to-relieve-tight-muscles-in-the-neck-and-shoulders 
2. https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/neck-pain-and-stiff-neck
3. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/muscle-bone-and-joints/exercises/exercises-for-neck-problems
4. https://www.wsh.nhs.uk/covid-staff-zone/Your-wellbeing/docs/New-neck-and-shoulders-loosening.pdf
5. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/muscle-bone-and-joints/exercises/exercises-for-shoulder-problems
6. https://osteopathic.org/what-is-osteopathic-medicine/benefits-of-yoga/
7. https://www.tummee.com/yoga-poses/cat-cow-pose
8. https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/child-s-pose/
9. https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/cow-face-pose/#_pay-wall
10. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/neck-pain-and-stiff-neck/
11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25780258/
12. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18765182
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