Ask Laura: Neck Stiffness

By Laura Moncur @ 5:00 pm — Filed under:


I’ve started having neck stiffness since I started running. I know it’s from running because the stiffness goes away on the weekends when I don’t run. I stopped holding on to the handrails on the treadmill and I even had someone look at my form when I run, but they didn’t notice any problems.

Do you know any neck stretches that I could do before and after exercise to help with the stiffness?



Firstly, you might want to make sure your form is correct and there aren’t any underlying problems by seeing an orthopedic doctor or a physical therapist. After you’ve done that, here are a couple of stretches that might help with the stiffness and pain:


Ear-To-Shoulder Stretch

  • Stand up straight with your shoulders down.
  • Lower your ear as close to your shoulder as possible.
  • Raise your hand, place it on the top of your head and GENTLY lower your ear closer to your shoulder until you feel a good stretch.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat.
  • Stretch the other side.

Intense Neck Stretch:

Neck Stretch - Starting Position Neck Stretch - Stretching Position

  • Grab your wrist behind your back.
  • GENTLY pull the arm toward the opposite hip.
  • At the same time, lower your ear to your shoulder.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat.
  • Stretch the other side.

Upper TrapeziusThese exercises stretch the upper trapezius (shown here). You should feel the stretch in the highlighted areas. If you feel the stretch somewhere else, check your form and try again. The stretch should not be intensely painful. Always check with your physical therapist for more information.

If you are experiencing pain elsewhere, then there are other exercises and stretches to strengthen that area. You can find more information at the Exercise & Muscle Directory.

Good Luck,
Laura Moncur


4 Responses to “Ask Laura: Neck Stiffness”

  1. rebecca Says:

    when i first started running that happened to me all the time- i think i could have gone miles farther without the neck stiffness. i’m not sure what finally helped me, but it was one of these things 1) yoga 2) weight training 3) just running enough that eventually i built up whatever muscles were causing my neck to tense up 4) making sure I kept my arms loose

  2. Cassandra Batson LMT Says:

    Neck stiffness when starting a running (or any new cardio) program is not uncommon. It is usually brought on by overworking the accessory breathing muscles which run from the cervical spine to the first and second ribs. In order to get more oxygen into the system these muscles, known as the scalenes, will contract on the inhale to lift up the first and second ribs to accomodate more oxygen intake into the tops of the lungs. The best way to prevent this is to consciously fill up the lungs progressively from the bottom to the top, make sure you are fully exhaling so that the lungs can get maximum oxygen on the next inhale, and slow the pace down until you can get a handle on relaxing and breathing deeply while running. Once the diaphragm gets stronger and the lung capacity increases, the problem should go away.

  3. bid Says:

    please i whant some one to help me in a neck stiffness

  4. Mary Kavanagh, Dublin Says:

    Laura, this might help “Mike” and “bid”. An Indian friend of mine gave me this sequence of exercisesfor neck stiffness:

    sit straight, looking straight in front of you. 1] Bring your head slowly down towards your chest, then back up to starting point. Let the head back as far as it will comfortably go, then bring back to upright position.

    2] While still sitting upright turn the head to the right so you’re looking in that direction, then back to central position. Now repat same movement to your left.

    3] While looking straight ahead drop your head down towards your shoulder as far as it will go without straining. Straighten up, then drop your head to the left in the same manner, then straightening it up.

    I do each of these movements as as continuous exercise, counting to either 3 or 5 for each head movement.

    When I started the exercises I was using a neck brace. I was in constant pain and was hardly able to move my head. I couldn’t turn my head and so couldn’t drive (reversing was an impossibility). After about two weeks of doing the exercises morning and evening I found a huge improvement and after about a month the stiffness was almost gone. The secret to the exercises is to take them very slowly and only move your head as far as it will go without any strain. Keep doing them even if there seems to be no improvement. Hopefully you will have the same results I did.

    If “Mike’s” case, when he feels stiff after his run, he should do each of these head movements about five times as smoothly and slowly as possible. They should ease out the muscle tightness after running.

    Hope this helps. Sorry about the length of the post.

    Mary, Dublin

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