5 Simple Tension-Taming Stretches To Open Your Shoulders & Neck

mbg Contributor By Jill Miller, C-IAYT, ERYT
mbg Contributor
Jill Miller, C-IAYT, ERYT is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and creator of the self-care fitness formats Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method. With more than 30 years of study in anatomy and movement, she is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage, athletics and pain management.

If you spend any time staring at a smart phone, tablet, computer or craning your neck to see over the steering wheel, chances are tension has been building in your upper back and neck. Yoga and exercise alone may not be enough to mitigate the daily grind and stiffening, especially when we spend hours a day on our devices.

The upper back is interconnected to the tissues above and below, and congestion here can have a negative affect on surrounding areas. That's why some targeted remodeling of the interconnected tissues can get into all the gnarly nooks and crannies to help refresh, rehydrate and revive every layer of muscle and connective tissue.

Tackle tension headaches and regular neck and shoulder pain with my five favorite techniques for erasing stiffness. All you need to get started is a pair of tennis balls and a wall!

1. Loosen The Noose

While laying on your back, place a tennis ball under each shoulder where backpack straps would rest. Bridge your pelvis off the floor and use your feet to roll your body back and forth over the balls for a minute or two.

How it helps: The ball loosens up stiffness in the upper back, restoring mobility to the shoulders and neck while also alleviating tension.

2. Rotator Cuff Refresh

While lying on your back, place a ball under your right shoulder blade and lean your body weight into the ball. Squirm your body from side to side, keeping the ball within the triangle-shaped border of the shoulder blade for 1-2 minutes. Switch sides and repeat.

How it helps: This move helps to revive overworked or sluggish shoulder muscles — specifically the rotator cuff — to improve shoulder movement and function.

3. Caress Wave

Lie down and place two balls side-by-side on either side of your upper back (you can place them in a sock to keep them together, if you like). Interlace your hands behind your head and lift your head off the floor bringing your chin towards your chest. Lift your butt off the floor and take three deep breaths into your ribs. Keep your breath big and steady, and roll the balls like a rolling pin up and down your upper back for 3-4 minutes.

How it helps: This move is an upper back tension reliever that helps to revive your breath and refresh your upper back and shoulders.

4. Chest Decongest

Place a ball underneath your left collarbone and lean into a wall. Spend at least one minute simply breathing into the pressure of the ball. Slowly shift your body from side to side, allowing the ball to roll back and forth underneath the left collarbone for 1-2 minutes. Then, try moving your arm and neck while you shift to add extra shoulder mobility into the mix for one minute. Switch sides and repeat.

How it helps: This move unglues the overworked chest muscles that tighten due to holding onto cell phones, typing on computers, cooking or carrying kids. It restores breathing and also relaxes your nervous system.

5. Neck Gnar

Place a ball just below your left shoulder, just behind the collarbone into the soft tissue triangle. Lean into a wall or door jamb to pin the ball in place. Move the left arm slowly through as many different positions as possible. Add a neck stretch by turning your head away from the ball and up towards the ceiling for 1-2 minutes. Switch sides and repeat.

How it helps: The ball untangles shoulder and neck tension created by carrying backpacks, purses, satchels and talking on the phone.

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