Full range of motion in the neck allows for full scope of vision, as well as normal function in many of our daily activities. The motion of the neck includes flexion, extension, rotation and side bending. Injury or trauma may create soft tissue damage, which can limit the range of motion. Stretches can be done to increase and maintain neck range of motion, allowing for a full and active lifestyle. Care must be taken not to overstretch, creating or increasing neck pain. As with any exercise program, seek medical advice if there are injuries.
Begin this exercise in a neutral position, which is looking straight ahead in a relaxed position. Bend your head gently down toward your chest and hold for 10 seconds. Begin with one set of 10 seconds and increase as tolerated to three sets. If you are able to touch your chin to your chest, you have a healthy flexion range. An acceptable measurement range is 40 to 60 degrees of flexion.
Begin in a neutral position. Lean your head back until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 10 seconds. Begin with one set of 10 seconds and increase as tolerated to three sets. The ability to look at the ceiling above is normal extension range. An acceptable measurement is 45 to 70 degrees.
Begin in a neutral position. Gently turn your head to the left until you feel a light stretch and hold for 10 seconds. Normal left rotation would allow for the chin to be almost in line with the shoulder. Repeat this to the right side for a right rotation stretch. Begin with a single 10 second set and increase to three sets as tolerable. When this becomes easy, you may increase the stretch by using your fingertips to apply a gentle pressure. For example, as your turn your head to the left, you would place the fingertips of your left hand on the right side of your chin. Being extremely careful not to apply too much pressure, you can gently provide a gentle pull on the chin, increasing the stretch. The range of 60 to 80 degrees is considered acceptable for rotation.
Lateral Bending Stretch
Begin in a neutral position. Keeping your face forward, bend your right ear toward your right shoulder, until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 10 seconds. Return to neutral and repeat this to the left side. Begin with a 10 second set and increase to three sets as tolerated. As this becomes easy and completely comfortable, add a gentle pressure to the stretch. For this step you will place the hand that you are leaning toward over the top of your head and apply a gentle pulling motion. For example: During a right side bending stretch you would reach over the top of your head with your right hand, and gently pull your head toward your right shoulder. Be very careful not to overstretch or create compression on the other side of the neck. For a normal range of lateral bending, you should be able to tilt your head to the half way position between straight up and your shoulder, or about 45 degrees.
About this Author
Kristi Stephens is a certified athletic trainer with a degree in Physical Education with a coaching concentration as well as a Family Life and Human Sexuality. She has a massage therapy certification as well as having had several certifications in personal training. She has worked in the realm of high school and college athletic training, has coached a variety of sports, and has owned and operated a personal training and massage therapy business.