Beautiful people stretching to relieve tension headaches in a fitness class with sun streaming in the windows at the back of the studio.

11 Easy Exercises and Stretches to Relieve Tension Headaches

If you have a sore and stiff neck, back, or shoulders first thing in the morning or at the end of a long workday, you are not alone. Your soar muscles may feel like joint pain and cause you headaches. Fortunately, you can use these gentle stretches to relieve tension headaches by restoring your muscles.

You must stay flexible to prevent headaches and discomfort, and minimize your risk of injury. If you perform the following stretches when you wake up and during breaks at work, you can reduce muscle tightness and decrease your risk of tension-related headaches.

Your Guide to Neck Stretches

You can develop tight neck muscles from injuries, poor posture, or just day to day living. Neck tightness can contribute to chronic headaches, but you can do some gentle neck stretching exercises to help decrease your muscle tightness. These stretches don’t require any fancy equipment, and will only take you a few minutes. Here are four simple neck stretching exercises:

1. Flexion Stretch

1) Gently bend your head forward, bringing your chin toward your chest. 2) Stop when you can feel the stretch in the back of your neck. 3) Hold the position for 15-30 seconds. 4) Return to your starting position (neck in midline position). 5) Repeat the stretch 5 more times.

2. Extension Stretch

1) Gently bend your head backward so that you’re looking straight up. 2) Stop when you can feel the stretch in the front of your neck. 3) Hold the position for 15-30 seconds. 4) Return to your starting position (neck in midline position). 5) Repeat the stretch 5 more times.

3. Rotation – Side to Side

1) Gently turn your head to the left, looking over your left shoulder. 2) Stop when you can feel the stretch in the right side of your neck. 3) Hold the position for 15 seconds. 4) Return to your starting position (neck in midline position). 5) Repeat the stretch 5 more times. 6) Then repeat on the opposite side, turning your head to the right.

4. Lateral Flexion – Ear to Shoulder

1) Gently bend your neck to the side, trying to touch your left ear to your left shoulder. 2) Stop when you can feel the stretch in the right side of your neck. 3) Hold the position for 15-30 seconds. 4) Return to your starting position (neck in midline position). 5) Repeat the stretch 5 more times. 6) Then repeat on the opposite side, trying to touch your right ear to your right shoulder.  

Guided Yoga Stretches to Relieve Tension Headaches

In the following video Jen Hilman begins her neck and shoulder pain relief yoga sequence with the following neck stretches.

  • Lateral flexion stretch
  • Flexion stretch
  • Head circles
  • Rotation stretch
  • Resisted rotation stretch
Neck & Shoulder Pain Relief Exercises & Yoga Stretches Jen Hilman

Easy Shoulder Stretches

If you spend long hours hunched over a computer, shoulder stretches can feel really good. They can also improve your posture. Here are some great stretches that can help relieve tightness in your shoulders:

5. Posterior Shoulder Stretch

1) Hold your left arm across your body and grab the back of your left elbow with your right hand. 2) Pull your left elbow in as far as you can so that your left fingertips can reach your upper back. 3) Hold the position for 15-30 seconds. 4) Repeat for your right shoulder.

6. Anterior Shoulder Stretch

This behind-your-back shoulder stretch will stretch the front of your shoulder and your chest. 1) Begin by standing up straight with your shoulders relaxed and back. 2) Clasp your hands behind your lower back. If you have difficulty doing this, hold onto a towel or walking stick positioned horizontally behind your back. 3) Lift your clasped hands, keeping your elbows straight and your hands out away from your body. 4) Keep your posture upright. Stop lifting your hands when you start to feel discomfort; don’t stretch to the point of pain. 5) Hold this stretch for 15-30 seconds.

Juliet Kaska Demonstrates Posterior and Anterior Shoulder Stretch

Stretches for Arms & Shoulders : The Body Melt

7. Shoulder Rolls

1) Roll your shoulders down and back, starting with small circles and working up to larger circles. 2) Do 10 backward circles and then 10 forward circles.

8. Arm Circles

1) Start with your right arm. Hold it straight out to the side with your palm facing forward and your thumb pointing up. 2) Move your arm in a backwards circle. 3) Do 15 circles, and then repeat with your left arm.

9. Twisted Shoulder Stretch

1) Hold your arms straight out in front of you. Rotate your arms so that your palms face away from each other. 2) Cross your arms so that your palms are pressed together, and then clasp your fingers together. 3) Stretch your arms away from you as you relax your head. 4) Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

The Best Back Stretches

Many day to day activities can cause tightness in your back muscles. Over time, these tight muscles can result in significant back pain and increase your risk for back injury. The following exercises will help you quickly and effectively stretch the major muscles in your back. Performing these stretches will help you prevent back pain and reduce any current backaches.

10. Back Stretch

1) Contract your abs as you lean forward from the hips, reaching your hands down to the floor. 2) Relax your head down and reach towards the floor with your fingertips until you feel the stretch in your back. 3) Hold for 30 seconds.

11. Wide Back and Shoulder Stretch

1) Contract your abs as you lean forward from the hips. 2) Place your feet wide apart and bring your arms between your legs. Wrap your arms around the back of your calves, grabbing hold of your ankles. 3) Gently pull with your hands to open your shoulders and stretch your upper back. 4) Hold for 30 seconds.

Finding Your Relief

We hope that these stretches to relieve tension headaches worked for you. What else works for you to relieve your tension headaches? please share with us and our readers in the comments. Additionally, check out our other articles on stretching and yoga.

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