Neck Pain & Headaches: 3 Simple Stretches to Help Reduce Neck Pain & Tension - Empower Physical Therapy & Wellness
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Neck Pain & Headaches: 3 Simple Stretches to Help Reduce Neck Pain & Tension

Neck Pain and Headache

Tension and stress headaches are one of the most common types of headache we help our clients with. Here I’ll share a few simple stretches you can perform at home to start relieving the pain and tension right away.

The most common headache we see is what we call a “suboccipital headache”, which basically refers to a headache that starts at the base of your skull and often wraps up and around the back of your head. This type of headache is typically accompanied by tension and tightness in the upper shoulders and neck muscles, in addition to those muscles at the back of your neck.

What Causes These Headaches?” 

As you might be thinking, posture can be a contributing factor to almost all headaches. The average person spends way too much time every day in a sitting position, often in front of a computer, television or some other device.

As we sit and our muscles start to become tired, we naturally start to slouch. This is especially true if you’re sitting in a chair that doesn’t have much back support (or if you’re just not using the back support). As you start to slouch, your lower back starts to round and your mid-back and neck naturally follow suit. Ultimately, this results in a “forward head” posture, where your head is pushed out in front of your body and your shoulders are rolled forward.

2 things happen when you spend prolonged periods in this position:

  1. 1
    Some muscles become short (or “tight”)
  2. 2
    Other muscles are lengthened (or become “weak”)

When it comes to headaches, it’s usually the shortened (or tight) muscles that we worry about, because as they tighten they can cause pain, especially when the suboccipital muscles start to compress the local nerves. 

If you experience this type of tension headache, I want to share some simple and effective stretches with you:

3 Simple Neck Stretches

Stretch 1

Chin Tucks

stand up in a comfortable position, with your arms and shoulders relaxed. Gently pull your head straight back, without tipping your head up or down. Think of your head sliding back on a drawer, or think of giving yourself a double chin. Hold the tucked position for 3-4 seconds. If done comfortably, you can repeat this for 10 repetitions, several times throughout the day.

Stretch 2

Shoulder Blade Squeezes

Again, stand tall and comfortable, with your head in a neutral position. Then squeeze your shoulder blades together in the back. Hold for 3-4 seconds, for up to 10 reps, 2-3 times/day.

Stretch 3

Upper Trap Stretches

Place one arm behind your back, with your elbow bent. Then, gently tip your head away from that side, towards your opposite armpit. You should feel a comfortable stretch along your upper shoulder blade and neck on the side you’re tipping your head away from. For a little extra tension, you can use your free hand to gently pull your head and neck towards your armpit. Hold a comfortable stretch for 20-30 seconds, and repeat twice on each side, up to 2-3 times/day. 

These 3 simple stretches should help you start to correct your posture and stretch out some of those tight neck and shoulder muscles. As you continue to do these stretches, you should see the intensity and frequency of these headaches decrease.


The Best Approach to Tension Headaches 

These exercises should provide some relief with stress headaches. However, there is no “cookie cutter” approach to some of these problems. Thes best approach is to have a thorough evaluation done by a neck specialist to “connect the dots” when it comes to your problem, and deliver a personalized approach. 

If you, or a loved one, is suffering from neck pain and headaches, you can request of a free consultation here


Have more questions? I’m happy to answer any questions about neck pain and headaches by phone

Dr. Carlo L. Sayo, DPT, OCS
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