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How to Treat and Cure Your Stiff Neck or Shoulder to Ease the Pain

Updated on April 10, 2017
Sue Adams profile image

I am a dancer, choreologist, author on fitness and health, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.

To treat and cure a stiff or painful neck or shoulder, we follow the upward progression in body awareness versus gravity. I have written other articles in which I began at the feet—which is the base or foundation of the whole body—and then worked our way up to the ankles, knees, pelvis, waist, torso, etc. In this article, regarding the neck and shoulder, we begin by exploring the base, or the shoulder area, to create a strong foundation that supports the neck and head. But first, what causes neck and shoulder pain in the first place?

Learn why it hurts and how to self cure your stiff neck and shoulder  pain.
Learn why it hurts and how to self cure your stiff neck and shoulder pain. | Source

What Causes Neck or Shoulder Pain?

The main cause of neck or shoulder pain is poor posture. You can treat and cure a stiff neck, frozen shoulders and upper back ache, even headaches and migraine by being well aware of your posture. There is no such thing as a short neck. We all possess 7 cervical vertebrae. A short neck is merely curved too deeply. The neck supports the head, so it obvious that if the head is carried too far in front of the body instead of directly above the spine, where it belongs, the muscles at the back of the neck are doing unnecessary overtime. Permanently tense and raised shoulders, poor sleeping habits, stress, or cold drafts also contribute to neck and shoulder pain. The overload in muscle tension just to hold your head up, but in the wrong way, can eventually escalate into chronic headaches and migraine. Oh dear, what to do, what to do?

First let us look at the shoulder area to create the strong base needed to help the neck support the head.

Shoulder Muscles

The main muscles that work the shoulders are the trapezius, the pectoralis (pecs) and the latissimus dorsi (lats) muscles; their job is to move the arm. Muscles work in a chain reaction fashion. When the arm rotates inward, it takes the shoulder with it. As this happens, the muscles at the front of the shoulder tighten while the muscles of the upper back become overstretched and weak. This results in:

  • kyphosis with forward head posture
  • tight muscles in the front of the shoulder
  • weak muscles in the upper back

Anyone who works for long hours at a desk is prone to this imbalance.

Correct Position of the Shoulder Joint

While the pecs and the lats are primarily movers of the arm, the rhomboids at the back provide stability to the shoulder joint. As the pecs and lats work to rotate the arm inward the rhomboids in the upper back become weak. This causes the shoulder joint to go too far forward, out of its neutral alignment, beyond its range of safety. This can be avoided by strengthening the upper back, using the rhomboids. Get off your chair for a minute and do the following shoulder alignment move to feel the rhomboid muscles putting your shoulders back into their correct place.

Turning Out the shoulder joint.
Turning Out the shoulder joint.

Shoulder Alignment

  1. Stand up with the arms hanging loosely by your sides, like the sleeves of an empty coat.
  2. Rotate the wrists outward as far as possible.
  3. Release the rotation in the lower arm (turn your palms in towards your thighs from the elbow) BUT...
  4. Keep the shoulders and upper arm in the same place as in 2. above.

You should feel a widening and flattening of the area immediately in front of your shoulder, allowing the shoulder joint to be placed at the side of your body rather than in front of it. That is where your shoulder likes to live most comfortably.

Relax the Shoulders

Raised shoulders cause the curve in the back of the neck to be too deep. As you can see from the red line of gravity, the head is carried too far in front of the body. This puts unnecessary strain on the muscles of the neck. A shortened neck often causes headaches and migraine. A double chin also often appears when the head is not carried above the spine. Firstly loosen the shoulders with the "Arm-swings and Circles" moves below, then proceed to the neck exercises in the following section.

Arm Swings

  1. Stand in a stable lunge position, the left foot in front and the right foot behind with the front leg bent and both heels on the floor.
  2. Swing the right arm up as far as you can until you feel the limit in the shoulder joint.
  3. Swing the arm down and back, again as far as you can feel it stop in its joint.

Breathe in on the uplift and out on the down swing. Use momentum rather than force, allow the arm to drop as it goes down. Do about eight or more swings while increasing speed and momentum until you are sure that all the little crackly noises (stiffness) have gone from your shoulder joint.

Reverse the position of the feet and repeat with the left arm.

Half and Full Arm Circles

It should feel like you want to throw away your hand.
It should feel like you want to throw away your hand.

Full Arm Circles

Stand in the same position as in the previous sequence and now make continuous backward circles with your arm. Again, breathing in as you go up and breathing out as you go down. Begin slowly and increase the speed of the movement until your arm wants to circle quite fast to throw off all the tension; until you feel a tingling in your fingertips. If you look at your hand, it is quite red, full of blood. When you finish, hold the arm above the head and shake the hand to allow all the blood to flow back down again.

Change the position of your feet and repeat on the other side.

Note: Welcome any clicking or crunching noises in your shoulder as long as it doesn't hurt. All the above moves are oiling your rusty joints. After a few repetitions those noises soon vanish.

Once the shoulders are nicely loose and relaxed, proceed with neck alignment.

Neck Alignment for Good Posture

Bad and good neck alignment. See the double chin in the first picture?
Bad and good neck alignment. See the double chin in the first picture? | Source

Over Curvature of the Neck

Get the photo album and find a picture of yourself in profile. Sorry, but if you carry your head as shown in the first picture above, you are in real trouble. When the neck is over-curved, the head is not aligned above the spine but has to be carried in front of the body. That takes a lot of effort and pain. Muscles turn into spasm and cause neck and shoulder tension, headaches and migraine. Help!

Train yourself to look up with a long neck
Train yourself to look up with a long neck | Source

For Those Who Don't Like to Look Up

Often we suddenly look up, thereby increasing the over-curvature of the cervical vertebrae even more and begin to look like a vulture. Worse than being unsightly, a partly self-strangulated neck cuts off regular blood supply to the brain. A brain, hungry for blood containing oxygen and energy coming from the heart cannot think properly. Finding it difficult to look up also affects one's mood, morale, and attitude. Someone who can only look down is a negative person.

Correct head alignment when looking straight ahead and when looking up.
Correct head alignment when looking straight ahead and when looking up.

Where Your Neck Should Be

Anatomically, the skull is supported by the Atlas (the top cervical vertebra) centrally somewhere between the ears, in line with the central line of gravity. Then, when you look up, keep your neck long as shown above. Doesn't that look much better? Slowly do the following "yes, "no" and "maybe" exercise to achieve this.

Yes, No, and Maybe

You can do these moves daily under the shower or when brushing your teeth. No Pain, Just Gain!
You can do these moves daily under the shower or when brushing your teeth. No Pain, Just Gain! | Source

These moves allow the neck to move in the three planes of motion, round the sagittal, transverse, and frontal axes which I prefer to call 'yes', 'no', and 'maybe'.

Caution before attempting neck exercises, you must establish the severity of your pain by consulting a physician or movement therapist.


  1. In the downward movement of the "yes" sequence aim to touch your breastbone with your chin. If the back of your neck is completely free of tension your chin should touch your breastbone when you look down - with your mouth closed (don't cheat!).
  2. On the upward movement of the "yes" sequence keep the back of your neck long as explained earlier.

Slowly repeat 1. and 2. for as long as the little noises inside your neck disappear.

Caution if you suffer from a posterior disc bulge avoid going too far down on this move as it would only increase the damage.


On the "No" sequence, keep the head central above the spine (between your shoulders. Try to see as far back behind you as you can on each lateral rotation but don't lift up your nose. Slowly repeat looking to the left and right until all the little noises inside your neck disappear.


On the "Maybe" sequence, drop your ear down towards the shoulder while keeping your nose facing the front.

Gently repeat each move eight times or more until all the little crunching noises in your neck have stopped.

Head Rolls

Slowly roll the head around clockwise to see how much of your entire periphery you can see. Or, pretend a butterfly is flying around your head and try to follow it with your eyes. After about the third circle, you will notice that you can see a little further. There may still be some little noises going on in your neck. They will eventually disappear. When you've done about four or five rolls, repeat them anti-clockwise. For best results, head rolls may be done in a warm bath under water where your head is virtually weightless.

How Do You Sleep?

Certain sleeping conditions can give you a stiff neck. Make sure you don’t sleep in a cold draft as this will cause your neck muscles to contract during sleep. Avoid pillows that take the neck out of its neutral alignment. For example, if you are on your right side and the pillow is too large, the neck is vulnerable to being pushed too far towards the left shoulder. Then you might wake up with a stiff neck. Your pillow should be firm and no thicker than the space needed for your head to lie flat on its ear without curving up the other side of the neck.

To train yourself for a better sleeping position you may first want to learn how to meditate in a horizontal position on the floor. Lie on the floor (not on a bed) on your back and simply allow gravity to straighten you out while you relax. Close your eyes and meditate as shown in the illustration below.

You can stay there for as long as you like to relax and meditate.
You can stay there for as long as you like to relax and meditate. | Source

Advanced Neck Lengthener

This video by Juliette Kando is, as it says in the introduction, only for people with good necks who want their necks to stay that way well into old age.

Huh, sorry but what's a "good neck"?

A good neck allows the body to lie comfortably supine on the floor (on your back) without a pillow.

The HeadWalk by Juliette Kando

No More Pain

In most cases of chronic pain, the pain is self-induced from poor movement habits. By slightly modifying your daily movement habits and patterns and being aware of the difference between "good movements" and damaging ones, you are on the road to healing yourself. Once your body can, as a habit, correct itself on an ongoing basis, there is no longer the need to spend extra time "exercising" as such. Just avoid making the wrong, damaging moves.

How Are You?

How Often Do You Have a Stiff Neck or Shoulders?

See results

Voting Results Commentary

The above survey shows that 60% of the population have a chronic stiff neck (over-curvature) while only 1% never have any neck trouble at all. Help! What must we do?

The answer is simple. Ask the question: "What causes over-curvature of the spine and neck?

Gravity. So the final tip I have up my sleeve to prevent having a stiff neck, improve your posture, your looks, your mood, and productivity all at the same time is to use gravity to the body's advantage rather than its detriment. We reverse or invert gravity. Read on...

Ultimate Solution: A Gravity Inversion Table

The ultimate solution to chronic neck pain and stiffness, bad back, and general stress related chronic pain is, of course, the gravity inversion table. The bottom line is, if we have to reduce over-curvature, compression, and tightness in the whole skeleton, this can most easily and pleasantly be achieved in a completely passive way with gentle anti-gravity traction as shown in the next video.

Hanging Upside Down to Lengthen the Neck

Checklist to Cure a Stiff Neck or Shoulder

Just remember this checklist on how to prevent, treat and cure your stiff neck or shoulder. Then your pain will soon ease away.

  • Re-align your shoulders so they are at the side of your body and not in front.
  • Retract the head so it sits above the spine (between the shoulders) and not in front of it.
  • Keep the chin down.
  • Perform the “yes, no and maybe” exercise at least once a day or whenever you feel stiff in the neck.
  • Perform the slow head rolls at least once a day or whenever you feel stiff in the neck. Don’t wait until your neck hurts so much you don’t want to move it.
  • Check your sleeping habits and use of pillows as described above.
  • Buy a Gravity Inversion Table to straighten you out. No more osteopath bills, no more pain.

The exercises and tips given above will help you attain a level of physical consciousness and awareness to treat and cure a stiff neck or shoulder to ease the pain forever. For more useful insights, questions, tips and solutions from live case studies similar to yours, please follow the comment thread below.


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    • profile image

      carolyn 3 months ago

      Really great post. I'm a hairdresser and i've been suffering from neck and shoulder pain very frequently, and now suffering headache. Will try excersise

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 8 months ago from Andalusia

      Hello Gna,

      Unfortunately I cannot tell if you are doing the exercises wrong as I cannot see how you do them. If there is no cracking, that's probably a good thing. It can mean one of two things:

      1.) Your neck may not be as stiff as you thought.

      2.) You are not moving deeply enough into the movement.

      If you get light headed doing neck rolls, do them very slowly and breathe deeply into the movement.

      Generally, for each single move:

      1.) Take a deep in-breath.

      2.) Move slowly

      3.) Try to reach maximum possible movement range (as far as it goes).

      4.) Relax into gravity at the end of each given move

      5.) With a deep outbreath.

    • profile image

      Gna 8 months ago

      Am I doing the neck exercises wrong? I have no creaking and I get light headed during the neck rolls.

    • ePetNation profile image

      ePetNation 15 months ago from Maryland

      Loved this. Great information. Thank you

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 16 months ago from Andalusia

      Hi, Endless Traveler,

      Sorry for late reply. Yes, of course you are welcome to ad a link and thank you for sharing.

    • profile image

      Fernanda 16 months ago


    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 18 months ago from Andalusia

      Hi Donna,

      I suggest gently following the videos in this article. To make it easier on the neck, once you know what to do, perform the same moves in an upside down position. Be slow,patient and gentle. Breathe deeply, and just allow gravity to straighten your neck out all by itself.

    • Sam Shepards profile image

      Sam Shepards 18 months ago from Europe

      Excellent article. Sitting behind a desk and computer screen all day I can use this information.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 19 months ago from California

      Excellent hub. Delighted to have found it. I avoided PT for my shoulder this morning because of the weather. Your exercised helped a lot.

      Would you mind if I link this to a hub I am writing on Posture?

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 19 months ago from Illinois

      Those were some helpful exercises, thanks!

    • The Reminder profile image

      The Reminder 20 months ago from Canada

      Very good info!

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 20 months ago from Canada

      Great hub, Sue, very helpful. informative, and well illustrated. What do you say about negative emotional states being the main culprit behind bad posture? People tend to physically cave in as a part of their defence mechanism. To walk and sit straight takes a person who can emotionally afford to "look the world in the eye".

    • Apoorva Rao profile image

      Apoorva Rao 21 months ago

      very informative !!

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 21 months ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Easy to do exercises while I am sitting here reading this, thank you!

      Great information to remind us to keep our best posture in good shape if we can.

    • Linda Robinson60 profile image

      Linda Robinson 21 months ago from Cicero, New York

      Hello Juliette an extremely fascinating interesting and informative hub. The information and details were exceptional, nice meeting you. I am happy to be following you. Linda

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 22 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub Sue. Very useful and interesting to know what to do for neck pain and stiff necks.

    • ogochukwu1 profile image

      OGOCHUKWU 22 months ago from NIGERIA

      It is a very educative write up. Thanks for the information.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      Now is the time to do something about it, Jennifer.

    • Jennifer-Louise-W profile image

      Jennifer-Louise 2 years ago from Nottingham

      Very useful article and appropriate as I have awful neck pain at the moment. Thank you! :)

    • profile image

      Gail Sport 2 years ago

      This article is very interesting. Has great information.

    • UndercoverAgent19 profile image

      Jen Corrigan 2 years ago

      Awesome and very helpful hub! I've had back and neck problems since I was a child, and reading your hub has brought to my attention the fact that I am only worsening the pain and discomfort by my bad posture. I look forward to trying out some of your exercises and tips.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      Hello zile,

      It looks from the little typos in your post that you may need to have yours eyes checked. Bad eyesight when typing is a strain on the eyes and the whole way you hold your head, too far forward with tightly lifted shoulders. Pay careful attention to your posture at all times, not just when doing the exercises.

      As for getting a Gravity Inversion Table, just click on the Amazon capsule in the article above to get one delivered right to your doorstep.

      You can and will feel better.

    • humzayunas profile image

      Malik humza 2 years ago from multan, Pakistan

      This was my biggest problem. Whenever i used my laptop and after using too much i can even turn my neck but these are really nice tips :(

    • Romekio profile image

      Eslam yosef 2 years ago from Egypt

      Amazing hub :),

      vote up,


      the 45 th hub follower,

      author follow,


    • randomapples profile image

      Ale G 2 years ago from Houston


    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      Don't be afraid of the little creaky noises Carol. They are comparable to the sound of a creaky old door that needs some oil to get its hinges moving again. In this case, movement, which boosts circulation, i.e. more blood supply towards the joints, plays the same role as the oil on the door hinges. Just keep moving gently and the noises will soon go away and so will the pain.

    • Carol Houle profile image

      Carol Houle 2 years ago from Montreal

      My little neck noises don't go away, but I will practice yes, no, maybe. I was afraid of doing neck exercises "because" of the noises.

    • MHiggins profile image

      Michael Higgins 2 years ago from Michigan

      Excellent hub! Thumbs up! Very useful info.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      Yes Bev, rotating shoulders in circles can help loosen the muscles in the neck too, provided you allow the shoulders to fully relax on the way down because lifting the shoulders (during the rotation) tenses up the neck muscles. But I agree, any motion is beneficial.

      As for the ringing in your ear, try circling the jaw in all possible directions, a bit like chewing like a cow :) with your mouth open. You will find many little creaky sounds doing that too, and the ringing will stop.

      In the end it's all a question of getting the affected parts moving loosely, thereby boosting circulation, i.e. plenty of blood supply to awaken dormant body parts.

    • profile image

      Bev 2 years ago

      I also found rotating shoulders in circles helped loosen the muscles in the neck. I felt so much better after that, physically &mentally. While doing the head exercises, I felt the muscle behind my ear pull. I'm hoping continued exercises will get rid of the ringing in that ear too. I have lots of creeky sounds in my neck that needs worked out. I had a cervical discectomy with fusion in 1998 after a car accident. You explained the neck positioning very well.

    • novascotiamiss profile image

      novascotiamiss 2 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Tasha, Walnuts contain Selenium as well but in much lower doses. E.g. 28 grams of Brazilnuts (approx. 6 nuts) cover 767% of your daily selenium intake, that's why you should only eat one of these nuts per day. In comparison 28 grams of Walnuts cover only 7% of your selenium, therefore you would have to eat them by the handful. I got this nutritional information from an interesting blog called healthaliciousness (you may want to check it out yourself). Another sign of selenium deficiency are white spots on the fingernails (mine have disappeared since I started eating this valuable nut.

    • Tashaonthetown profile image

      Natasha Pelati 2 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you just what I needed after two days of neck and back pain!

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      Thank you for that info Scottie. Does it have to be a Brazil nut? Being a vegetarian, I eat walnuts almost daily.

    • novascotiamiss profile image

      novascotiamiss 2 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Thanks for an excellent article that explains it all. By the way, I also have a little secret to share. I read in a health magazine that many people suffer from pain due to a selenium deficiency. A good way to get your daily dose of selenium is to eat 1 brazil nut a day. Sounds too easy to be true but I tried it out and it definitely worked on me!!! I had been suffering from lower back pain for months and within 10 days of eating the nuts my symptoms just about disappeared. Warning: Only eat 1 brazil nut per day as too much selenium is not good for you.

    • Keshabrown profile image

      Keshabrown 2 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Thanks so much for this!!! I really need this. I'm at a computer all day and keep all my stress in my neck. Perfect timing!

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      You are so right Easy Exercise. The power of our own muscles plus a means of combating the excessive downward pressure of gravity are the key to healing pain. Any pain caused by poor movement habits and consistent bad posture can be cured with gentle, adequate remedial exercise with a sense of self-responsible body awareness .

    • Easy Exercise profile image

      Kelly A Burnett 2 years ago from United States

      Outstanding! I have battled my neck muscles and I am winning! I have strengthened the muscles and find with proper posture and exercise I have been able to avoid surgery. The neck walk video is fascinating. I am not yet game to try it even my medical history. I love the beginning with the stretch.

      I believe strongly in our muscles have the power to heal.

      Great hub! Voted up!

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Useful article, thanks. I am already doing some of the exercises mentioned here, and will add more as the neck improves.

    • profile image

      RAJESH CHANDRA PANDEY 2 years ago from India

      Very informative and helpful article. Thanks Sue.

    • Caitlyn Ramos profile image

      Caitlyn Ramos 2 years ago from Albany, New York

      Thank you so much for this! For months now I have had a bad neck and shoulders, I've never been able to crack my neck or any muscle but now it cracks all the time! I hope with time this will help.

    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 2 years ago from Japan

      Thanks a lot for the tips, I suffer from stiff neck a lot when I wake up in the mornings. Maybe due to bad sleeping posture.

    • ezzly profile image

      ezzly 2 years ago

      excellent thank you for this article, ive been told i have a straight neck which "knocks my back out". Ill have to get some props for the floor!

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      Hi Amanda,

      Despite all the treatments you've had, I still believe that retaining as much mobility as possible will help you. Gravity Inversion facilitates mobility because the gentle traction increases distance between vertebrae. In view of this, yes, I do recommend it, even for your condition. But go gently, slowly.

    • Amanda Y Stone profile image

      Amanda Y Stone 2 years ago from Abbeville, South Carolina

      I have chronic back and neck pain due to degenerative disk disease. I have had 3 surgeries on my lower back with fusion the last time. I have had 1 neck surgery with a playe and screws put in. I'm trying these exercises and was wondering if you think it would be safe for me to have an inversion table. I really want to try that. Thank you for this wonderful information. Its more than o have ever gotten from Dr's or therapist. . Love it. Thanks for taking time to read our comments.

    • profile image

      tiffany baker 2 years ago

      from my experience it is caused from toxic build up..a good coffee enema will eliminate all back pain.....

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      Hi Dale,

      I recommend daily use of a Gravity Inversion Table as described above to relieve downward pressure on your vertebrae.

    • profile image

      Dale 2 years ago

      I have a bulging disc and bone spur. What exercises would you recommend.

    • Randall Guinn profile image

      Randall Guinn 2 years ago from Pinellas Park, Florida

      Thank you Sue. I will give it a try.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      Hi Randall,

      I would recommend the first one on this page, the Pronex Pneumatic Cervical Traction Device. My brother who had chronic neck pain for years has been using one daily for a few weeks now. His condition has improved enormously. He no longer has the related head-aches associated with chronic stiff neck cramps and has already been able to go back to work.

    • Randall Guinn profile image

      Randall Guinn 2 years ago from Pinellas Park, Florida

      Hi, out of the two cervical traction devices you have listed, is there one that you would recommend above the other? Would wearing a neck support afterward help, or hurt?



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