Neck tightness is a common annoyance that can ruin your entire day…and night. Short-term fixes such as pain-relieving medication, massage and chiropractic care don’t address the real cause. Most neck pain is rooted not in the cervical spine, but in the muscles of the upper trapezius region that support the shoulder and arm complexes. Being glued to the computer or constantly checking your cell phone causes them to overwork and eventually shorten and strain—you actually can see the distance between your ear and shoulder shrink!
To protect your shoulders and allow for normal neck motion and function, you want to strengthen the opposing muscles to the levator scapulae and upper trapezius muscles at the back and sides of the neck and upper spine. Specifically, you want to strengthen the lower trapezius, the muscle that runs from the shoulder blade to your mid-back. All it takes is two progressive resistance exercises. They can be done with weights or resistance bands (available at sporting-goods stores and online) as shown.
For each exercise: Perform three sets of 10 repetitions with one minute rest between sets, three times a week, always with a day of rest in between.
Start with a resistance equal to an exertion level of eight out of 10 (10 feels as if you are overexerting, and 0 feels as if you are doing nothing). Stay at this level until muscles adapt and grow, and the exertion level feels like five out of 10. This is when you increase the resistance until it feels like an eight out of 10 again. Do this by using a heavier weight or by grabbing higher on the band or switching to a band that has a stronger tension.
Instructions here are for bands, but use the same positioning and movement if you are using weights.
Sit in a sturdy chair, and lean back slightly, at about a 20-degree angle. Secure one end of the resistance band to a chair leg at your right foot, and hold the other end of the band in your right hand. Your arm should be at a 45-degree angle, midway between your chest and your side, hand at eye height and elbow just unlocked. Keep your arm straight, and raise it to about a 130-to-140-degree angle (elbow is about level with your cheek). Return to start. Repeat all reps and sets. Then repeat on the left side.
Use a door anchor specifically designed to work with resistance bands to attach the center of your band to the top of a closed door. Sit in a sturdy chair, leaning back at about a 30-degree angle. Hold one end of the band in each hand with arms nearly straight, elbows just unlocked. Pull down the band, keeping arms wide and bringing elbows just below shoulder level and slightly behind the line of the shoulders—the shoulder blades should squeeze together. If the elbows drop lower than shoulder level, you’re using the wrong muscles. Return to start.