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Simple Stretches to Relieve and Prevent Tension Headaches E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

A sore and stiff neck, as well as a sore or stension_headachetiff back and tight shoulders are often experienced by people first thing in the morning as well as at the end of a long work day.

Gentle stretching exercises can help alleviate the aches associated with tight muscles of these regions.

Keeping your flexibility is important to preventing discomfort, including headaches, as well as minimizing chances of injury.The following stretches should be performed upon wakening as well as during breaks at work to minimize tightness and decrease the potential of tension related headaches.

Neck Stretches

Day to day living, poor posture, and injury often result in tight neck muscles which can contribute to chronic headaches. Gentle neck stretching exercises can be quite effective in decreasing muscle tightness. The exercises can be performed without fancy equipment and only takes a few minutes. Four simple neck stretching exercises include:
    • Flexion Stretch - Chin to Chest. 1) Gently bend your head forward while bringing your chin toward your chest. 2) Stop when a stretch is felt in the back of your neck. 3) Hold position for 15-30 seconds. 4) Return to starting position. (Neck in midline position). 5) Repeat above stretch 5 more times.
    • Extension Stretch - 1) Gently bend your head backward so that your eyes are looking up.2) Stop when a stretch is felt in the front of your neck. 3) Hold position for15-30 seconds. 4) Return to starting position. (Neck in midline position). 5) Repeat above stretch 5 more times.
    • Rotation -Side to Side.  1) Gently turn your head to the left, looking over your left shoulder. 2) Stop when a stretch is felt in the right side of your neck. 3) Hold position for 15 seconds. 4) Return to starting position. (Neck in midline position). 5) Repeat above stretch 5 more times. 6) Gently turn your head to the right, looking over your right shoulder. 7) Stop when a stretch is felt in the left side of your neck. 8) Hold position for150 seconds. 9) Return to starting position. (Neck in midline position). 10) Repeat above stretch 5 more times.
    • Lateral Flexion - Ear to Shoulder. 1) Gently bend your neck in attempts to touch your left ear to your shoulder. 2) Stop when a stretch is felt in the right side of your neck. 3) Hold position for 15-30 seconds.

Shoulder Stretching

Stretching your shoulders can feel good, especially for those of us who spend long hours hunched over a computer. It can also improve your posture. Some good examples of stretches that can help relieve tightness include:
    • Posterior Shoulder Stretch. 1) Hold your left arm across your body and grab the back of your left elbow with your right hand. 2) Pull the left elbow in as far as you can so that your left fingertips can reach your upper back. 3) Hold position for 15-30 seconds. 4) Repeat for the right shoulder.
    • Anterior Shoulder. This behind-your-back shoulder stretch will stretch the front of the shoulder and the chest. 1) Begin standing up straight with shoulders relaxed and backs. 2) Clasp your hands behind your lower back. If you have difficulty doing this, hold on to a towel or walking pole positioned horizontally behind your back. 3) Lift your clasped hands, keeping your elbows straight, back out away from your body. 4) Keep an upright posture. Stop lifting at the point you no longer feel comfortable; don't stretch to the point of pain.  5) Stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
    • Shoulder Rolls. Roll the shoulders down and back, starting with small circles and working up to larger circles.  Do 10 circles backwards and then repeat forward circles. 
    • Arm Circles. With one arm at a time, make backwards arm circle with your palm facing out, thumb pointed up. Repeat 15 with each arm.
    • Twisted Shoulder Stretch. 1) Take the hands straight out in front of you and rotate the arms so that the palms face away from each other.  2) Cross the arms so that the palms are pressed together and round the back, reaching the arms away from you as you relax the head. 3) Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. 

Back Stretching

Day to day activities can often cause tight back muscles. Over time this can result in significant back pain and increase your risk for back injury. The following exercises will help stretch the major muscles of your back in a quick and effective way. Performing these stretches will help prevent back pain and assist in reducing present back aches.

    • Back Stretch. 1) Contract the abs as you tip forward from the hips, bringing the hands down to the floor.  2) Relax the head down and reach with your fingertips to stretch the back. 3) Hold for 30 seconds.    
    • Wide Back and Shoulder Stretch. 1) Contract the abs as you tip forward from the hips. 2) Take the feet wide and bring the arms inside the legs, then wrap the arms around the back of the calves, grabbing onto the ankles.  3) Gently pull with the hands to open the shoulders and stretch the upper back. 4) Hold for 30 seconds.
 
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