3 Exercises for a Stiff & Sore Neck

The Active Office Worker Ep. 02

By Coach E

sore neck exercises active office worker

Don’t ignore a sore neck after a day of work at your desk. Addressing it can make you feel better, work better, hit the gym better and even look better.

That’s because neck pain can interrupt every aspect of your life. It affects your ability to focus, it messes with your posture, and the aches keep you from hitting it hard during your workouts.

In Episode 1 of The Active Office Worker series, we covered wrist mobility. In this second installment of the series, I’ll teach you 3 simple techniques to help relieve the pain in your neck.

The Science Behind a Sore Neck

Research has confirmed that neck issues go way beyond an annoyance. In a study of female office workers with neck pain, almost a quarter (22%) reported that they reduced their work activity because of their pain, and many more (42%) said they reduced their leisure activities [1].

This is how the cycle begins. You’ve got a sore neck, so you stop moving. Which only makes your neck stiffer and less mobile, which increases the pain. Add in being hunched over a desk for 8+ hours a day and the loop intensifies.

The combo of tightness plus the nature of desk work also leads to forward head posture. This stance can aggravate issues throughout the body and let’s be honest, it’s just not a great look.

forward head posture exercises

Image by www.corewalking.com

But don’t worry – I’ve got 3 simple neck exercises that are perfectly designed to improve the extensibility of your neck musculature, increase your range of motion, and shore up your stabilizing muscles in the proper posture.

Sore Neck Exercise#1:

Neck Active Self Myofascial Release

Sore Neck Exercise 01 Neck Active Self Myofascial Release

This first technique is an Active Self-Myofascial Release (ASMR) method that will focus on your sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle.

This muscle runs from your clavicle, or collarbone, up to your skull, right behind your ear. It functions to draw your head down toward your collarbone, rotating your head and flexing your neck in the process. [2].

neck sternocleidomastoid anatomy

Image by www.learnmuscles.com

This self-massage technique will help you break up adhesions in the muscle, improving its extensibility while integrating movement. This is ideal because it allows the neuromuscular system to learn right away how to use any new range gained as you perform the release.

  1. Start in the shortened position of the SCM, with your neck laterally flexed and slightly rotated to the right (imagine trying to get the back of your ear as close as possible to the front of your clavicle)
  2. Place your middle and index finger behind your ear and make sure the muscle is on. Reposition until you feel your SCM contract.
  3. Apply pressure on the muscle through your fingers and slide them down the length of your SCM
  4. At the same time, start to move into the opposite position so that the muscle is fully lengthened – lifting your chin up as your look up and over your left shoulder
  5. Return to the start and repeat – running your fingers down the length of the muscle and stripping away any adhesions as you take the SCM from its shortened to lengthened position
  6. Complete 5 reps on each side

Sore Neck Exercise#2:

Neck CARs 

Sore Neck Exercise 02 Neck CARs 

Now that you’ve loosened up the tissue, you want to get it moving right away. This controlled articular rotation (CAR) will take the cervical spine through its full range – a range that has probably increased after performing the ASMR technique.

Be sure to perform this exercise slowly and remember to relax and breathe as you do so. Take time to explore your end ranges while moving in a safe range.

  • Take your chin toward your chest
  • Rotate to look toward the right shoulder
  • Bend your right ear over toward your right shoulder
  • Rotate to first look up at the ceiling and then over toward the left shoulder
  • Bend the left ear toward left shoulder
  • Rotate back to the starting position, chin to chest
  • Perform in the opposite direction, rotating to the left first
  • Complete 2 reps in either direction

Sore Neck Exercise#3:

Neutral Neck Stability

Sore Neck Exercise 03 Neutral Neck Stability

This last technique works to strengthen your neck stabilizers in a neutral position. Performing this exercise will help solidify the progress we’ve made in the previous 2 moves and make it easier to maintain proper neck posture throughout the day.

  • Start by finding a tall, neutral position in the neck with your head lengthening away from your shoulders
  • Tuck the chin in (like you’re making a double chin)
  • Bring both hands up and place them behind your head
  • Open up your elbows so you feel a stretch in the chest
  • Very gently start to press your hands forward into the back of your head
  • Hold this position, maintaining the tall and stable posture as you take a slow and deep 360° breath – expanding your chest in all directions
  • Release the pressure and place your right hand on the side of your head, above your right ear
  • Apply pressure and repeat with another slow 360° breath
  • Repeat, this time applying pressure on the left side of the head
  • Finally, apply gentle pressure to the forehead with the fingertips of both hands and complete another deep breath

I recommend making this routine a daily habit. If you find yourself forgetting, try anchoring the routine to a daily activity. For example, decide you’re going to pause and perform these 3 moves as soon as you get back to your desk after lunch, or maybe it’s the last thing you do every day before taking off.

Find some way to make it a habit and get your stiff neck moving while you’re tied to the desk. This routine should help improve forward head posture and ease that sore neck.

If you want to explore other causes of forward head posture, check out the Shoulder Flexibility Solution. A sore neck and shoulder issues often go hand in hand. And in the meantime, keep a look out for the next episode of The Active Office Worker!

—– Other AOW Episodes —–

Episode 01 addresses wrist mobility

Episode 03 addresses shoulder posture and mobility issues

Episode 04 addresses hip mobility and helps activate the major muscles of the hips

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.