Massage Therapist-Approved Neck and Shoulder Stretches

Brittany Risher
by Brittany Risher
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Massage Therapist-Approved Neck and Shoulder Stretches

As work and life stress pile up during your day, it’s natural to “hold” that tension in your neck, shoulders and upper back. Add poor posture, and that pain can get even worse, causing headaches in some people.

Since most of us probably can’t get massages 24/7, we asked massage therapists to tell us the stretches they use themselves to help provide relief anytime, anywhere. Try these moves from Cynde Montilla, massage therapist at The Sisley Spa at The Carlyle Hotel in New York City, and Elissa Langmaid, massage therapist at SpaVital at Pura Vida in Denver. Unless otherwise directed, hold each stretch for 20–30 seconds, which allows your muscle to relax. Then repeat the stretch 1–2 more times.

Don’t forget to breathe as you do these. “Holding your breath will tense muscle groups — especially in the neck and shoulders,” Montilla explains. And never force it or bounce. Stretch only as far as your body will allow, coming into the position slowly and with purpose, Montilla says.


  • Sitting or standing, exhale as you lower your left ear to your left shoulder, keeping your shoulders even.
  • Repeat on the right.


  • Turn your head to the right, looking over your right shoulder, then angle your chin down toward your right clavicle.
  • With your right hand, grasp the top of your head and gently pull the neck deeper into the stretch.
  • To intensify the stretch, place your left hand behind your neck. To stretch your shoulder, bend your left arm behind you so the back of your hand is against your back.
  • Repeat on the other side.


  • Sit with your back straight and lower your chin to touch your chest.
  • Clasp your hands behind your head near the base of the skull and push downward to slowly deepen the stretch. Do not collapse your back; isolate this stretch for your neck only.
  • To intensify the stretch, with the palms of your hands, gently push your head forward as if to pull your head away from your shoulders.


  • Sitting with good posture and your shoulders back, lift your head to look at the ceiling. Close your mouth to fully stretch the muscles.
  • In this position, slowly turn your head left and then right. You will feel a stretch in the muscle on the front/side of your neck.


  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your right hand above your head and bend your elbow so your hand touches the middle of your back. With your left hand, grasp your right elbow and pull gently to the left.
  • To deepen the stretch, bend at the waist to the left side to feel the stretch in the lats and obliques.
  • Repeat on the other side.


  • Sit or stand with good posture. Bring your right arm across your chest. With your left arm, hook the right arm from underneath, forming a cross with your arms.
  • Push the right upper arm closer to your chest to deepen the stretch.
  • Repeat on the other side.


  • Stand in a door frame with one foot about 18 inches in front of the other. Place your hands on the frame with your elbows bent 90 degrees so that your hands and forearms rest on the frame.
    • Variation 1: Lean into the door opening to stretch your chest muscles.
    • Variation 2: Place your hands and forearms slightly higher up the frame and lean in.
    • Variation 3: Place your hands only on the door fame at the same level as your shoulders and lean in.


  • Kneel, then sit on your heels with your toes untucked.
  • Lean back and place your palms flat on the floor with your fingertips pointing away from you. Press your palms into the floor, lifting your chest and stretching the front of your neck.


  • Come to all fours with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
  • Inhale, dropping your belly toward the floor and lifting your chest as you gaze in front of you.
  • Exhale, drawing your belly to your spine and rounding your back. Let your head release naturally.
  • Continue alternating for 1 minute, or as long as feels good.


  • Sit with your right side against a wall. Gently turn your body to the right, and lift your legs up onto the wall and rest your upper body on the floor.
  • Adjust your positioning to be comfortable. It’s OK if your butt doesn’t touch the wall.
  • Rest here for as long as you like.

About the Author

Brittany Risher
Brittany Risher

Brittany is a writer, editor and digital strategist specializing in health and lifestyle content. She loves experimenting with new vegan recipes and believes hummus is a food group. To stay sane from working too hard, she turns to yoga, strength training, meditation and scotch. Connect with her on TwitterInstagram, and Google+.


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