Shoulders – You probably don’t notice it right away. It might creep up after you’ve been sitting at your desk for hours, chipping away at your daily to-dos.
Or perhaps it’s when you’ve been carrying your backpack on one side or taking calls by squeezing your phone between your shoulder and ear.
Whatever the reason, sooner or later it hits you: Your shoulders are scrunched, your neck hurts, and your muscles feel tight.
“The neck and upper back area hold a lot of tension,” says Karena Wu, a physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in NYC.
“The amount of time spent with forward head and shoulder posturing increases the stress on the soft tissue and joints in the area.”
In other words, sitting at a computer all day with your head and neck in the same position leaves you with tight, stiff, and sore shoulders. And sedentary jobs aren’t the only issue.
Stress can add to the problem: When you experience high levels of stress, your rib cage can drop slightly, causing your shoulders and upper back to round forward into a slouch.
Try these 16 moves — they’ll help with the stiffness and maybe even the stress.
While all the moves on this list will help loosen your shoulders, relieve tension, and increase flexibility, this should be your first stop. Think of it as the gateway to the rest of the exercises.
“This move helps someone find their good, upright postural position and moves the spinal column and soft tissues to increase circulation and blood flow,” Wu says.
From a standing position, slouch slightly forward. No need to overdo this part, Wu says, because we’re already biased to move in this direction. Now, overcorrect to an upright position with a slight bend to your upper back (without putting pressure on your neck or low back).
Our model, physical therapist Rebecca Young, suggests reaching your hand behind you to touch the area between your shoulder blades to make sure you’re feeling the movement in the right place: your upper back and shoulder blades. Repeat 3 to 5 times in each direction.
This move sounds easy enough, but we bet you’ll need to concentrate on isolating your shoulder blades (and not simply moving your shoulders up and down).
Start in a comfortable standing position with your arms at your sides. Move your shoulder blades up, then out (pushing away from your body), then down. You need to move only about 1 centimeter in each direction.
Maintain good postural alignment throughout the exercise. Hold each position for 10 seconds or longer.
1. Chin retractions
Go ahead, embrace your double chin. This move is especially great for people who hold their neck in the same position for long periods of time (such as staring at a computer for eight hours a day).
Move your chin forward, then slowly pull it back by slightly tucking it in toward your throat. Try to keep your chin parallel to the floor and straight (not tipping it up or down). Repeat hourly up to 10 times.
2. Neck rolls
Tilt your head to the right and slowly roll it down (chin to chest) and to the left (making a U shape). Then roll it to the right. Repeat 5 times in each direction. Only roll your head and neck sideways and forward — not to the back, since doing so increases the pressure on your cervical spine.
3. Shoulder rolls
Starting in a position of proper alignment, roll your shoulders up, then back, then down in a fluid motion. Repeat this movement about 10 times, and then reverse it, rolling forward about 10 times.
4. Neck stretches
Bend your right ear to your right shoulder. Place right hand over left temple and add a little extra pressure by gently pulling your head to the right.
Your left hand can rest at your side or reach behind your back, or you can hold the bottom of a chair to increase the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
5. Cow Face Pose
Reach your right arm straight up, bend your elbow, and let your hand fall behind your head. Move your left arm behind your back and bend the arm; letting the back of your left hand rest against your right shoulder blade (or as close to it as possible).
Reach to grab your right fingertips with your left hand. Repeat on the other side.
Make it easier: If you can’t reach the fingertips of the opposite hand, use a towel to assist; creating a bit of tension by gently pulling on the towel in opposite directions.
6. Cross-body arm stretch
Cross your straight right arm across your chest. Use your left hand to gently pull the right upper arm closer to your body. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat on the other side.