My favorite stretch to loosen up neck muscles had been doing circles and rolling my head around in 360 degrees of motion a few times then switching direction. I've heard from people and on the news that this is unhealthy and dangerous. Why? What are alternatives that work the full range of motion. I do a lot of swimming and find my shoulders and neck get sore.

  • See for instance here to have some neck stretches. In particular, you stretch your Levator Scapulae by gently leaning forward and looking at one of your feet, slow and carefully. If you only lean forward (without looking at one side) what you are stretching is your Trapezius. The Levator Scapulae is less "known" but it is smaller than the trapezius and more prone to get stiff and cause problems.
    – Mephisto
    Aug 9, 2013 at 1:14
  • Just to add a comment, I like to hold a kettle bell (around 24kg) in each hand by my side. Then slowly tip my head to the right (as if you are trying to touch your right temple on your shoulder) then hold the stretch and then try the other side. The weights help keep your shoulders down and not only stretch your neck muscles but also stretch your shoulders out.
    – james508
    Aug 20, 2013 at 4:05
  • It's when you roll your head to where it's straight back that is really bad for the neck. If you want to do head rotations, you simply roll from one side to the other, changing directions without ever finishing the rotation close to the "head back" position. Sep 28, 2016 at 19:52
  • @AndrewMattson who told you that and why? I asked a massage therapist and he said as long as you don't force your head back really hard it's not bad.
    – Celeritas
    Sep 28, 2016 at 22:22
  • @Celeritas - I think the selected answer covered the why pretty well in the first paragraph. Here's a decent, though dated article on the subject - articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-06-16/features/… Sep 29, 2016 at 13:33

2 Answers 2


Rolling the neck is contraindicated because it can hyperextend and compress the cervical vertebrae and cause nerve damage over time.

You can let your chin just kind of hang your your chest, and lean your head to the side (Think touching your ear to your shoulder) as recommended neck stretches. As you advance, you can add a gentle traction to the side stretch. (So if you are leaning your head to the right, you can place the palm of your right hand on the high curve of the head and gently apply a pulling, not a downward, pressure. Be aware and stop at any discomfort).

You can also look to the right and left as if you were trying to look behind you without moving your shoulders. These should all provide a stretch to the muscles in the neck/jaw/upper shoulders (Of which the sternocleidomastoid will be the primary recipient).


The best way is to slowly, gently stretch and strengthen different muscles at the same time. For example:

  • push the chin down (that firms the front of the neck) and at the same time, pull the throat backwards (that lengthens the back of the neck)

  • push the throat forward, lift the chin up (lengthens the front, firms the back)

When turning the head sideways, it is good to slightly lift the ear (eg. if you are looking over the right shoulder, lift the right ear slightly). The reason is that the upper part of your spine is at a slight angle, that is, if you turn your neck when it is perfectly vertical, there will be a slight pinching in the neck (noticeable on the skin of the neck), which you should avoid.

Whenever you bend, try not to collapse on one side, instead, lengthen one side and maintain length on the other side.

  • Which ear should be raised? For example if I'm looking over my right shoulder should I slightly raise my left or right ear?
    – Celeritas
    Aug 12, 2013 at 6:43
  • The same - if you're looking over the right shoulder, then slightly raise the right ear. It should feel like you are gently stretching your neck equally in all directions.
    – BKE
    Aug 16, 2013 at 9:52

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