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Image of back of neck with red indicating pain and hands lifted above the shoulders

Upper Back, Neck and Shoulders – ways to reduce tension and tightness

Experiencing discomfort in the upper back, neck and shoulders is incredibly common. For those of us who have our arms extended out in front of us to use a keyboard, to use our phone, to drive or to lift objects, for example, will have an increased chance of experiencing discomfort or conditions in this area of our bodies.

Although the actions causing this discomfort can vary widely, the symptoms are frequently the same and tend to be caused by overuse, or using this area of our body in a way we are not typically used to, such as holding an awkward position or overloading the muscles or joints.

Common symptoms are:

  • Tension and tightness in our muscles
  • Stiffness through our joints
  • Restriction in our range of movement
  • Compression in the spine
  • Nerve impingement
  • Changes in posture
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • General discomfort and pain

Corrective Action

Ergonomic Assessments - these are available through your employer and can be done in person or online. The Health and Safety Executive also have resources and checklists available:  https://www.hse.gov.uk/msd/dse/assessment.htm

Desk - It’s worth considering your overall desk set up as well as your posture - are you better suited to a sitting or standing desk? Or do you need to be able to do both? What kind of chair do you find comfortable and supportive - high back? additional supports and arm rests? Or a kneeling chair?

Vehicle - the seats in vehicles are generally poorly designed. They don’t offer any support to your neck and the lower part of the seat slants back, placing your knees higher than your hips, thereby compressing your lower spine. As your spine is a column, what happens at the bottom is reflected at the top and vice versa. Foam wedges are a good way of correcting the angle in your lower back and neck supports/cushions are available


There are 4 key stretches which can help loosen off any tension and tightness and get quick results:

1. Chin to Chest - Simply drop your chin down to your chest and hold for a minimum of 30 seconds. Repeat as desired. Please note, let gravity do the work. Don’t actively push your head down. Let the head hang and soon your head will drop a lot further than you think, giving a nice deep stretch.

2. Ear to Shoulder - gently tilt your head to the left, keeping your shoulders down and bringing your ear down to your shoulder. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds. Repeat as desired. Do the same on the right side. To deepen the stretch, actively extend your right arm and fingers down to the ground, pushing down. You’ll feel a deeper stretch along the right side of your neck.

3. Chin towards Shoulder - turn your head to the left, keeping your shoulders down and facing forwards, extend your chin towards your left shoulder and tilt your head downwards. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds. Repeat as desired. Do the same on the right side.

4. Head Back - slowly tilt your head backwards and gently push the chin towards the ceiling. You’ll feel a stretch in your neck and under your chin. Hold for a minimum of 10 seconds. Repeat as desired.


Sometimes discomfort and pain are caused by muscle weakness and changes in posture. For example, we can experience ‘round shoulders’ from the pectoral muscles in our chest getting tight and short and from our rhomboids between our shoulder blades, getting overextended and weak. Health Professionals such as Sports Massage Therapists, Physiotherapists and Osteopaths will be able to provide you with a bespoke assessment of any muscle imbalances, along with any strengthening exercises.


Pay attention to how you hold yourself - how you sit and stand in particular - and whether you are moving enough. Are you wearing suitable shoes? Do you take regular breaks at work? Are your workouts or exercise activities moving your body in a balanced way, or are they overworking certain areas? Pilates and Yoga are great for strengthening and rebalancing your body, as well as Massage and Osteopathy.

Useful Equipment

Foam Wedge: https://putnams.co.uk/collections/sitting-wedges

Physique Be Confident written logo in blue and redAll of the below equipment is available from our Partner Providers, Physique at 10% discount using the code: BODYMECHANICS


Please always seek medical advice before engaging in any form of treatment or rehab.

If you have any questions or feedback about this article, please send them to enquiries@bodymechanics.co.uk