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Top 7 neck exercises and stretches for computer-related neck pain

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

I demonstrate seven easy neck exercises and stretches to relieve and prevent neck pain from computer use – with pictures and step-by-step instructions. All of these neck exercises and stretches can be done at your desk or standing up, so if you work in an open-plan office, you won’t be entertaining your co-workers by rolling about on the floor. Remember, if you need more help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.


Learn what exercises and stretches I find most useful to treat and prevent neck pain from sitting at your desk.

Some of the links in this article are to products or brands discussed or mentioned here. We may earn a small commission on the sale of these products at no extra cost to you.


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Exercises and stretches for computer neck pain


Top tip: Research into computer-related neck pain suggests that you’ll benefit from moving your neck and shoulders regularly while working at your computer. So, split these exercises up and do them as active breaks throughout your workday. (More advice on this at the end of the article.)

1. “Double Chin” Neck Stretch

This neck exercise is great for stretching the muscles in the back of your neck so that you can keep your neck in a more neutral position while working on your computer. It will also decrease the compression in the facet joints in your neck. Facet joint irritation is one of the main causes of neck pain that we see in our physio practice.



Instructions

  • Stand with your lower back against a wall and your feet about 40 cm away from the wall.

  • Place the back of your head against the wall.

  • Pull your chin in, as if you want to get the back of your neck to touch the wall. Take care not to tilt your head forwards as you do this – you’re aiming for the maximum “double chin” look.

  • Do not push as hard as you can. Only pull your chin back to where you can feel a gentle stretch in the back of your neck.

  • Hold the position for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat 10 times.

Tip: You may not be able to get the back of your head against the wall if your upper back is very stiff. If this is the case, place a small rolled-up towel between the back of your head and the wall.

2. Pec Stretch

This exercise will stretch your pectoral muscles, over the front of your chest. These get very tight when you sit with rounded shoulders or use a keyboard often. How does this affect your neck pain? It is near impossible to get your neck into a good position if your shoulders are being pulled forward by tight pecs.



Instructions

  • Stand in a doorway (with the door open).

  • Raise your arms to the side, elbows at shoulder height, with your forearms pointing upwards, and place your forearms against the door frame.

  • Lean forwards through the door frame.

  • You should feel a gentle stretch at the front of your chest and into your upper arms.

  • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat twice.



  • Now move your arms slightly higher and lean forwards again.

  • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat twice.


3. Thoracic Extension

This exercise will help to straighten out your upper back. A stiff, rounded upper back can contribute to your neck pain by forcing you into a “tortoise head” position.



Instructions

  • Sit in a chair with a chair back that comes up to the middle of your back and place your hands behind your head.

  • Lean back over the back of the chair by pushing your chest out to the front as far as you can.

  • Hold the position for 10 seconds.

  • Repeat 10 times.


4. Smelling Your Armpit

No, this is not a joke! The easiest way to get the position of this neck exercise right is to imagine that you want to smell your armpit. This will stretch the levator scapula muscle, which contributes to neck pain when it gets overused and tight, especially from using a computer mouse.



Instructions

  • Sit on your left hand.

  • Turn your head to the right and then bring it down towards your right armpit.

  • Place your right hand at the back of your head and pull your head further down towards your right armpit.

  • You should feel the stretch in the left side of your neck.

  • Hold for 10 seconds, then switch sides.

  • Repeat 3 times to each side.


5. Upper Trapezius Stretch

The poor upper traps (the muscles between your ear and the top of your shoulder) is one of the main muscle groups that gets tight and painful when people “carry” stress in their necks. An angry trapezius muscle can often also cause a headache that you feel around your eye, in addition to neck pain.



Instructions

  • Sit on your left hand.

  • Look straight ahead and tilt your head to the right, so that your right ear moves towards your right shoulder.

  • If you don’t feel a pull in the left trapezius, you can use your right hand to pull your head a bit further to the right.

  • Hold for 10 seconds, then switch sides.

  • Repeat 3 times on each side.

Whilst stretching your neck muscles can provide short-term relief, it’s not really a long-term fix. The best lasting solution is to strengthen your neck muscles (this helps them tolerate more work) and adopt healthier work habits (see below).


6. Overhead Press

This exercise helps to strengthen your neck muscles as such. The stronger they are, the better they can support your head and the longer they take to fatigue and hurt. Actively contracting these muscles also improves their circulation and can help to alleviate neck pain.


Instructions

  • Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your knees slightly bent.

  • Tuck your elbows into your sides, with your forearms parallel to the floor and pointing sideways (either all the way or slightly diagonal – whatever is comfortable).

  • Slowly raise your arms all the way up while straightening them. Gently pinch your shoulder blades back as you raise your arms.

  • Pause at the top and then slowly lower them back down.

  • Do up to 15 repetitions, but don’t force it. Stop sooner if your muscles get tired.

  • Do 3 sets, with 60 seconds rest between them.

  • Once you find this easy, you can start holding light weights while you do it.

Tip: If you’re new to this exercise, start by doing only a few repetitions. Overdoing it can make your neck feel stiffer and more painful.


7. Rows

This exercise strengthens the muscles in your upper back and neck, making it easier to maintain a good, upright posture.



Instructions

  • Attach an exercise band to a sturdy object or hook it through a closed door at chest height, so that you have two equally long parts to work with.

  • Stand facing the exercise band with your feet hip-distance apart and your knees slightly bent.

  • Start with your arms straight out in front of you, holding an exercise band end in each hand so that the bands are already somewhat stretched.

  • Slowly pull your arms back, bringing your elbows into your sides and ending up with them bent 90 degrees.

  • Pause for a moment, then slowly release the band back out.

  • Do up to 15 repetitions, but don’t force it. Stop sooner if your muscles get tired.

  • Do 3 sets, with 60 seconds rest between them.

Tip: It should feel somewhat hard to pull the band back, but not cause you to strain. Use a lighter band or give it some slack if you find it difficult.


Get some exercise bands from Amazon:


Neck exercises aren’t enough – you need to do this as well


Even if you do neck exercises until you look like The Incredible Hulk, it will not save you from neck pain if your computer and office furniture setup is wrong and if you don’t take regular breaks from sitting at your desk.


Set up your workstation properly

It is so easy to sit with poor posture when working on a laptop or computer.

Does the picture above look familiar? This is the posture many of us assume when we are sitting too far from our computer, sitting for too long, or if we’re struggling to see clearly what’s on the screen.


The problem with this posture is that the muscles at the back of your neck and front of your shoulders become tight. You also compress the facet joints in your neck and upper back while you over-stretch the joints and ligaments in your mid-back. This can not only lead to neck and back pain but can also cause shoulder impingement and pain during sport.


Try this for yourself: Push your neck forwards, as if you’re imitating a tortoise. Now, lift your arms up as high as you can while keeping your neck in the forward position. Then, sit up as straight as you can and again lift your arms up as high as you can. Do you notice how much higher you can lift your arms when your neck is not pushed forwards?


How to set up your workstation? We’ve got you covered in this article about ergonomic desk, chair, and computer setup to avoid neck pain.


A good desk and work setup can help prevent neck pain.

Take regular breaks

While standing up and walking to the kitchen is great, this mostly exercises your lower body. Ideally, you want to do movements with your upper body that will relax the tight muscles and move your neck and back joints into the opposite position than what you have been having them in while you were in front of your computer.


The problem is that we sometimes get so engrossed in our work that we forget to take these much-needed breaks. Here’s our article with research-based advice on how to separate yourself from your chair at regular intervals.


How we can help


Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

The Sports Injury Physio team

We're all UK Chartered Physiotherapists with Master’s Degrees related to Sports & Exercise Medicine. But at Sports Injury Physio we don't just value qualifications; all of us also have a wealth of experience working with athletes across a broad variety of sports, ranging from recreationally active people to professional athletes. You can meet the team here.

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About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Masters Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn or ReasearchGate.

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