It’s no secret— stress wreaks havoc on our mental health and quite swiftly, can cause serious physical pains in our bodies, with our necks and jaws frequently absorbing the brunt of the strains. Dulling, painful aches form and throb while muscles tighten and harden to the point where one’s complete well-being is less than 100%.
“Neck pain is one of the main reasons patients come to see me,” says Dr. Todd Sinett. “This pain can be caused from a myriad of problems, but the most common cause I see is in relation to teeth clenching brought upon from stress.”
“People hold their jaw muscles tight while simultaneously clenching and/or grinding their teeth, whether it be during sleep or as a coping mechanism during a workday. When the jaw tightens it impacts the neck muscles, resulting in a sore or stiff neck.”
There is hope of course says Dr. Sinett. People do not have to accept these pains as normal and just a result of the stresses of everyday life. While one should obviously be addressing the direct causes of the stress, old habits die hard as the saying goes. You may have taken on steps to have a less stressful workday, but that doesn’t mean your body instantly got the message.
By employing simple stretches, you can help alleviate the pains in your neck and jaw while helping to reset the way your body reacts to daily life.
Ahead are 7 simple stretches that can be practiced daily to get you on the path to a calmer, happier existence. Dr. Sinett created these stretches in tandem with our Backbridge fitness tool.
Mobility Neck Check
Before you get started— because the neck is a vital component of our spines— it’s important to do a mobility neck check.
“To avoid injury and better understand your own personal range of motion, test your neck’s mobility range since necks move in several different directions,” says Dr. Sinett. “You will never ever want to push past what’s comfortable for you as this will cause an injury. Instead, be cautious and ease and build into mobility through daily gentle stretches.”
To check your rotation, which ideally is at 80 degrees, note the below:
Flexion is the act of bringing your chin to your chest, and lateral flexion is your ability to bring your ear to your shoulder. To qualify as having “good flexibility,” you should be able to touch your chin to your chest and move your head about 25 degrees, or halfway, to the shoulder.
- Extension is the ability to bring your head back, optimally about 55 degrees. You should always check extension while sitting, as some may get dizzy while standing.
The neck can move in a combination of these directions at the same time, such as laterally bending and rotating.
Protective Passive Stretches to Start
Do passive stretches first to make sure that you are ready to add some resistance with a stretch strap.
- Sit up tall and turn your neck to the side. Your chin should line up with your shoulder.
- Using a stretch neck strap, gently move your neck through the above range of motion and take note of how it feels.
Along with obtaining more knowledge about your neck’s mobility, you can consider these exercises a warm-up to more resistant-based stretches that are noted below.
“Remember, stretching should never hurt! When stretching the neck, you want to be very careful not to overstretch, which can cause painful neck spasms.” Dr. Sinett says.
7 Neck and Jaw Stretches
#1 Side Neck Stretch
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position on the Backbridge. Take your right hand and place it above your left ear, fingers pointing down. Your left hand can rest on your left thigh. Begin to gently pull your head, bringing your right ear towards the top of your right shoulder until you feel a stretch in the left side of your neck. Repeat on the other side.
#2 Side Neck Stretch with Upward Tilt
While sitting comfortably on the Backbridge, take your left hand and place it palm down on the top, right side of your head. Gently pull your head on a diagonal back and to the left, bringing your chin up and to the right. You should feel this stretch on the right, front side of your neck. Repeat on the other side.
#3 Side Neck Rotation Stretch
While seated on the Backbridge, take your left fingertips, and place them on the right side of your chin. Keeping your head neutral (with your chin parallel to the floor), begin to gently turn your head to the left with your chin facing your left shoulder. You should feel a comfort- able stretch in the right side of your neck. Repeat on the other side.
#4 Side/Back of Neck Stretch
Remain in your comfortable seat on the Backbridge. Take your left hand and place it on top of your head with your fingers pointing down toward the back, right side of your neck. Begin to gently pull your head forward and down on a diagonal as if you were bringing your chin towards your right shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
#5 Front of Neck Stretch
Bend your elbows to the side and place both of your hands behind your head with fingertips touching or interlaced. If your shoulders are very tight and you cannot relax them in this position, you may also use a strap to support your neck as shown below. Gently tilt your head straight back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the front of your neck.
#6 Back of Neck Stretch
Keep the same hand (or strap) position as the previous stretch. You may also try placing the strap across your forehead if this position is more comfortable for your shoulders and/or neck. Drop your chin and allow your head to bow forward, creating a comfortable stretch in the back of the neck.
#7 Jaw Stretch
Place your fingertips just inside the jaw joint (next to your ears) and apply gentle pressure while you slowly open and close your mouth, raising and lowering the jawbone or mandible. Do this 10 times, pause, and repeat.