Stretches to Loosen a Stiff Back, Shoulders and Neck
Muscle stiffness can occur in your back, shoulders and neck following a variety of activities, including lifting weights, playing sports, sitting or standing with poor posture, or twisting your back or neck forcefully. Stiffness is bound to set in whenever you stress your muscles beyond their customary limits. If you feel stiffness in your back, shoulders and/or neck, perform gentle stretches every day to loosen your muscles and help you recover as quickly as possible.
Back rotations loosen the muscles that rotate your spine in either direction, including the erector spinae muscles that run parallel to your spine on each side and the deep spinal muscles. This exercise is especially effective if you feel stiffness prior to playing sports such as golf or softball which require powerful rotational movements. To perform the exercise, stand inside a door frame with your back about a foot away from the side without hinges. Keeping your feet flat on the floor, rotate to the left and grab the frame with both hands. Breathe normally and hold the stretch for 5 to 10 seconds. Press against the frame to deepen the stretch slightly with each exhale. Repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.
The shoulder stretch loosens the deltoids, the most prominent shoulder muscles, along with the rhomboids and trapezius muscles of your upper back. Stand upright with your feet about hip-width apart. Cross your left arm over your chest so your fingers point away from your right shoulder. Hold your left elbow with your right hand and pull your arm closer to your body to deepen the stretch. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, and then repeat the stretch with your right arm.
Neck stiffness can occur following sudden twisting movements that strain your neck muscles, sitting or standing with poor posture for a long period of time, or sleeping with your head in an awkward position. Robin McKenzie, a physical therapist and author of "7 Steps to a Pain-Free Life," recommends neck rotations as one in a series of neck stretches to relieve stiffness. Sit upright in a chair and look straight ahead. Keeping your eyes at the same level, rotate your head to the left until your chin is over your shoulder. Then place your left hand on the right side of your chin and your right hand behind your head so your finger touch your left ear. Gently press backward with your left hand and forward with your right hand at the same time to twist your neck slightly farther. Return to the starting position, and then repeat the exercise by turning your head to the right.
- "Physiology of Sport and Exercise"; Jack H. Wilmore, David L. Costill and W. Larry Kenney; 2008
- "Relax Into Stretch"; Pavel Tsatsouline; 2001
- "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning"; Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle; 2000
- "7 Steps to a Pain-Free Life"; Robin McKenzie with Craig Kubey; 2000
Matthew Schirm has worked in the sports-performance field since 1998. He has professional experience as a college baseball coach and weight-training instructor. He earned a Master of Science in human movement from A.T. Still University in 2009.