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  • Writer's pictureMichael Liougas

Neck Stretches For Headache Relief

Updated: Mar 4

Almost everyone has experienced a headache at least once in his or her life. If you’re headache is being brought on by stress or tight neck muscles, you might be one of the lucky ones. Take preventative measures and reduce your pain by doing neck stretches for headache relief.

It’s important to note that individuals doing neck stretches for headaches can experience different levels of success in eliminating pain and frequency. There are roughly 150 different types of headaches that a person could be potentially experiencing. Some of the most common types of headaches are migraines, cluster headaches, sinus headaches, post traumatic headaches and tension headaches.

Each type of headache can be brought on by a number of reasons. If you’re not sure what type of headache you’re experiencing or you have severe pain you should seek medical attention or call the best physiotherapy clinic near Bayview and Eglinton for an over the phone consultation.

How to stretch your neck to relieve pain

  • The following stretches should be done lightly.

  • Do not be rough, jerky or pull beyond what is comfortable to you while performing the stretch.

  • Explore your range of motion by moving slowly and smoothly into each position and pose.

  • Be sure to completely stop doing any particular stretch if there’s pain associated with the motion.

Chin tuck stretch (neck flexion)

This may arguably one of the most common neck stretches for headaches that refer behind the eyes or into the forehead.

  1. Start in a seated position.

  2. Let your head drop forwards so your chin is tucked into your chest.

  3. With your fingers interlocked, place your hands behind your head.

  4. Let the weight of your arms determine the intensity of the stretch.

  5. After a few seconds, slowly bring your head back to its original upright position.

  6. Repeat 4 to 5 sets.

Neck retraction exercise

This particular motion should always follow neck flexion stretch.

  1. Place your fingers on your chin.

  2. Push your chin as far back as it will go without letting your head change the angle it’s facing to find the range of motion you’re going to repeat (without pushing with your fingers).

  3. Repeat the motion 4 to 5 times exploring your range backward and repositioning your head to a comfortable starting position.

  4. This exercise should feel as if your head (skull) is moving back but your neck is staying in the same position. This stretches the muscles and ligaments at the base of the skull while improving range of motion and posture.

Lateral flexion stretch (Side tilt)

This is a simple stretch you can do sitting down or standing.

  1. Start by tilting your head to the left side.

  2. The motion should bring your left ear closer to your left shoulder.

  3. You can increase intensity by putting your left hand on the top of your head and gently pulling toward your left shoulder.

  4. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.

  5. Bring your head back to the starting position.

  6. Repeat the steps for the left side.

Upper trapezius stretch

This stretch is almost identical to the lateral flexion stretch. The only difference is that you will need to anchor your shoulder in a lower position to increase the leverage and intensity you have with the stretch.

  1. Make sure your head is facing forward.

  2. Grab the bottom of the seat on the right side of your chair to depress your right shoulder.

  3. Tilt your head to the left and grab your head with your left hand to pull gently toward your left shoulder.

  4. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

  5. Slowly raise you head back to its starting position.

  6. Repeat for the right side.

Levator Scapulae stretch

To effectively execute this stretch you’ll need to stabilize your scapulae. This is easily done by sitting in a chair and holding on to the bottom of the seat with your right hand. Alternatively, you can simply put your right arm behind your back palm up (so your knuckles rest on the small of your back).

  1. Once your arm is in position, turn (don’t tilt) your head to the left.

  2. Look down towards your left shoulder.

  3. You can increase the intensity of the stretch by gently pulling your head down to apply more pressure.

  4. Repeat for the same for the left side of your neck.

Scalene stretch

The scalene muscles are located closer to the front of your neck.

  1. To stretch these muscles, tilt your head towards the right, bringing your right ear closer to your shoulder.

  2. Slowly look upwards and point your chin upwards until you feel a good stretch on the front, left side of your neck.

  3. Slowly return your chin back to the tuck position.

  4. Slowly bring your head back to its upright position.

Do neck stretches eliminate headaches?

The answer is not the same for everyone. If the source of your headache is stress or tension-related then yes, you can effectively use neck stretches for headache relief. Loosening tense neck muscles may work for some people while others may need additional forms of therapy if the problem persists.

If you feel a noticeable difference in the severity of and frequency of your headaches, it’s an indication you’re doing the right thing for your body. Use neck stretches for headaches to continue to increase the range of motion in your neck. Stretch frequently and regularly and never be afraid to ask a professional physiotherapist for help if you’re not sure about your progress.

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