Already have an account?
Get back to the

5 Stretches You Can Do In Bed to Melt Away Neck and Shoulder Pain

Just 5 to 10 minutes of simple stretches in the morning or at night can dramatically dial down pain

If you’ve ever found yourself absentmindedly rubbing your neck or letting your head fall back against the couch cushions at the end of a long day with a subconscious sigh of relief, you’re one of the millions who experience neck and shoulder pain on a regular basis. While there may be days when you feel like soreness has taken up permanent residence beneath your skull, the good news is that it’s easy to find relief — without relying on medication. The simple trick: Completing neck stretches in bed. Here, experts share the most common causes of neck and shoulder pain, why stretching in bed can be so beneficial and the best stretches to incorporate into your routine.

Why so many people have neck pain

The National Institutes of Health estimates that about one in three Americans experience neck pain at least once a year, but the numbers are likely even higher. Indeed, research shows that 65% of people who work from home suffer from neck or back pain, and 30% of them says it keeps them from being productive. Women are affected more often than men, and the risk of problems becoming chronic and repetitive increases with age.

“Many factors can contribute to neck and shoulder pain,” says Christine Goertz, DC, PhD, a professor in musculoskeletal research at the Duke Clinical Research Institute and Vice Chair for Implementation of Spine Health Innovations in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Duke University. “Osteoarthritis and whiplash following car accidents are two common causes, but many people also experience neck and shoulder pain if they spend long hours on a computer, tense their neck muscles often due to stress, sleep in the wrong position or even for no reason they can identify.”

The rise of ‘tech neck’

Technology-induced aches, or “tech neck” — neck pain caused by prolonged use of cell phones and computers — is also on the rise. Ken Hansraj, MD, Attending Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York, and author of a pioneering study that examined the effects texting has on the neck, notes, “Bending your head down 60 degrees to look at a screen or keyboard can put 60 pounds of force on your neck.”

Alison Brown, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, NY, points out additional related risks of screen time: “Activities like looking at a computer or looking at our cell phones could lead to forward head positioning, rounded shoulders, increased kyphosis [rounding of the spine] and neck/upper back pain.

Related: How to Get Rid of a Neck Hump — And Soothe Neck and Back Pain in the Process

Any of these factors can lead to strains of the muscles and tendons in the neck and shoulders, which can contribute to chronic pain, agrees Paul Cagle, MD, an associate professor of Orthopedic, Shoulder and Elbow Surgery in the Leni & Peter May Department of Orthopedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “This pain can range from the common muscles of the neck such as the trapezius to the common muscles and tendons of the shoulder such as the deltoid muscle and the rotator cuff tendons.”

Related: Experts Identify the Surprising Culprit Behind Hip Pain + Relaxing Strategies to Soothe It Fast

How neck stretches in bed can help ease pain

Given how hard we’re asking our necks to work on a daily basis, taking the time to complete neck stretches can be particularly beneficial. “Regular flexibility is a good practice for all our joints, but some joints take extra stress,” Dr. Cagle says. “The neck is a great example of an area that often sees that extra stress, and as such, maintaining flexibility in the neck can help avoid pain and injuries.”

One of the best things about doing neck stretches is that you don’t need a lot of space or any special equipment. “We all have different demands of our time and schedule,” notes Dr. Cagle. “Finding the time to commit to staying flexible is the most important thing, and because of this, I would suggest both the morning or at night can be good times.” 

Stretching in the morning will prime the neck to be mobile and flexible throughout the day, while stretching in the evening can eliminate existing tension to help you sleep more deeply and comfortably.

“I often do neck stretches myself before going to sleep or when waking in the morning, just because it feels good!” cheers Dr. Goertz.

5 stretches you can do in bed to melt away pain

These expert-recommended stretches can be performed while sitting on your bed. And while you’re stretching, don’t forget to breathe. “Breathing is crucial to a good workout and stretch,” says Dr. Cagle. “Many find it helpful to take a breath and let it out slowly during the stretching process. This can help pace the stretch and assist with relaxation.” (Click through for more simple breathing exercises.)

Breathing slowly and deeply can also give you something to focus on while you hold each stretch. “I always remind patients that the definition of a stretch is something prolonged,” Brown says. “It is important to hold each position for an extended period of time, at least 20 to 30 seconds, in order to actually accomplish anything. As you hold a stretch, the sensation you initially feel should start to dissipate.”

Scroll down through the gallery below for the simple neck stretches in bed that can help you feel your best

And for more on natural pain relief, keep reading:

Top Docs: Tiger Balm Is One of The Safest, Most Effective Forms of Pain Relief

Foot Pain is the Menopause Symptom No One Warned You About: How to Relieve It

Pain In The Lower Back, Butt and Legs Isn’t Always Sciatica — Sometimes It’s A Muscle Spasm That Needs Very Different Treatment

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.