Shoulder and neck pain are common occurrences all around the world. Both the neck and shoulders are complex areas, which makes them susceptible to strain and injury. Neck and shoulder pain can also be caused by stress. Luckily, yoga has shown significant promise in reducing pain in the neck and shoulder.
According to studies, it can also increase the overall sense of well-being and reduce anxiety in those who practice it regularly. So, we’ve gathered 10 yoga poses to help relieve shoulder and neck pain.
A Word About Pain
Before you start these exercises, you should know that none of them should cause you pain. If they make your shoulder or neck pain worse— or cause any pain at all— it’s best not to continue that exercise. Some of the more advanced poses may cause you to stretch to your capacity, therefore causing some discomfort, but the pain is never a good sign.
If you do experience pain during these exercises, consider seeing a chiropractor. One of the best ways to figure out what’s wrong and get back to normal is chiropractic care for neck pain. You can also talk to your regular physician or a physical therapist for advice and possible solutions.
How the neck and shoulders are connected
The neck and shoulders are an important part of our body, and they are connected in many ways. Your neck consists of seven vertebrae, which are connected to your skull and thoracic spine. The cervical spine plays a crucial role in protecting your spinal cord, supporting your head movements, and allowing blood to flow to your brain.
However, the natural curve of your cervical spine can be flattened due to repetitive movements or continually being in a particular position like looking down at your phone, resulting in headaches, pain, nerve pain in your arms, and limited range of movement.
The connection between your neck and shoulders is not only through your spine, but also through several nerve pathways, tendons, and muscles. Therefore, when you experience pain in your neck or shoulders, it is not always clear where the problem lies. Your shoulders are the most mobile ball-and-socket joints in your body, and if they are not strengthened and protected correctly, they can become unstable and prone to injury.
However, the good news is that practicing yoga can help alleviate pain in your neck and shoulders. Yoga asanas have been shown to improve chronic neck pain, reduce stress, and strain on the shoulders. Starting with a few neck stretches and then moving on to various poses can help improve your posture, balance your muscles, and release tension. So, whether your pain originates from your neck or shoulders, yoga can be an effective solution to help relieve pain and improve overall well-being.
Types of Shoulder and Neck Pain
There are different types of shoulder and neck pain, and understanding the specific type of pain can help determine the most appropriate treatment. Here are some common types of shoulder and neck pain:
Muscle pain: Muscle pain is the most common type of shoulder and neck pain. It can result from overuse, poor posture, or injury. Muscle pain may feel like a dull ache or a sharp, stabbing pain.
Joint pain: Joint pain can occur in the shoulder or neck joints, and it may be caused by injury, arthritis, or other conditions. Joint pain may cause stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion.
Nerve pain: Nerve pain can occur when nerves in the neck or shoulder become compressed or pinched. Nerve pain may cause a burning or tingling sensation, weakness, or numbness.
Referred pain: Referred pain is pain that is felt in one area of the body but is caused by a problem in another area. For example, a pinched nerve in the neck may cause pain in the shoulder.
Tendinitis: Tendinitis is inflammation of a tendon, and it can occur in the shoulder or neck. Tendinitis may cause pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the affected joint.
Bursitis: Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that cushions the joint. Bursitis can occur in the shoulder or neck and may cause pain, swelling, and stiffness.
Whiplash: Whiplash is a type of neck injury that occurs when the head is forcefully jerked back and forth, causing damage to the soft tissues in the neck. Whiplash may cause neck pain, stiffness, and headaches.
Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that can occur in the neck or shoulder. It may cause pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion in the affected joint.
Herniated disc: A herniated disc is a condition in which the soft, gel-like center of a spinal disc pushes out through a crack in the outer layer, putting pressure on nearby nerves. A herniated disc in the neck may cause neck pain, shoulder pain, and numbness or tingle in the arms or hands.
Rotator cuff injury: A rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, and a rotator cuff injury can occur when one of these muscles or tendons is torn or damaged. Rotator cuff injuries may cause shoulder pain, weakness, and difficulty moving the arm.
Adhesive capsulitis: Adhesive capsulitis, also known as frozen shoulder, is a condition in which the shoulder joint becomes stiff and painful, often after a period of inactivity. Adhesive capsulitis may cause shoulder pain and limited range of motion.
Cervical spondylosis: Cervical spondylosis is a degenerative condition that affects the cervical spine in the neck. It may cause neck pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion, as well as tingling or numbness in the arms or hands.
11 Yoga Poses for Neck and Back Pain
Standing Forward bend yoga pose is a simple yet effective posture for stretching and relaxation. It helps to release tension in the back, hamstrings, and shoulders while promoting calmness and focus.
- Stand with your feet comfortably apart and facing forward. This will create a stable base for the posture.
- Take a deep breath in and, as you exhale, slowly bend forward starting with your head and shoulders and ending at your waist. Keep your chin tucked into your chest to protect your neck.
- Once you are bent over, you can touch your feet or place your hands near your feet, depending on your flexibility. Remember that this pose is not about touching your toes; it’s about stretching your back and hamstrings.
- If you can comfortably keep your legs straight, do so for a deeper hamstring stretch. If not, you can bend your knees slightly.
- Allow your arms to relax and hang down, letting gravity stretch your shoulder joints with the weight of your arms. You can also interlace your fingers behind your back and stretch your arms overhead for an added shoulder stretch.
- Hold the pose for 15 to 30 seconds, breathing deeply the whole time. Focus on relaxing your body and releasing any tension.
- Slowly bring yourself back up, taking a deep breath in as you do so.
- Repeat the pose 3 to 5 times, taking breaks between each repetition if needed.
Cat-Cow stretch is a popular yoga exercise that helps to improve spinal flexibility, strengthen the back muscles, and relieve stress. This exercise involves moving the spine in a controlled manner, alternating between arcing and rounding the back.
- Begin by positioning yourself on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Your fingers should be spread wide, and your toes should be tucked under.
- As you inhale, arch your back and lift your head towards the ceiling, allowing your belly to drop towards the floor. This is the Cat pose.
- Hold this position for 2-3 seconds, feeling the stretch in your spine and neck.
- As you exhale, round your spine and bring your chin to your chest. Contract your abdominal muscles and draw your tailbone towards your knees. This is the Cow pose.
- Hold this position for 2-3 seconds, feeling the stretch in your upper and lower back.
- Repeat the Cat-Cow stretch 10-12 times, moving smoothly and slowly between each pose.
- Remember to breathe deeply and rhythmically throughout the exercise, inhaling as you arch your back and exhaling as you round your spine.
- If you have any knee or wrist injuries, it is best to avoid this exercise or modify it by using props, such as a folded blanket or a yoga block.
Cow face pose
The cow face pose is a popular yoga posture that effectively stretches the chest and shoulders. It can be done by anyone, regardless of their level of experience.
- Begin by sitting on a comfortable chair with proper posture. Your back should be straight, and your feet should be flat on the floor.
- Bend your arms and bring your elbows up, so your hands touch your back.
- Use your right hand to pull your left hand towards your shoulder, feeling the stretch in your shoulder and arm.
- Keep your spine upright and hold this pose for at least 30 seconds.
- Release the pose and switch to the other side, repeating the same steps with your other arm.
Remember to maintain proper posture throughout the exercise and hold the pose for at least 30 seconds to fully benefit from the stretch.
Warrior ll Pose
The Warrior II pose, or Virabhadrasana II in Sanskrit, is a powerful standing pose that strengthens the legs, opens up the hips, and improves flexibility in the spine and neck. Here’s how to perform the Warrior II pose:
- Start by standing at the top of your mat, with your feet hip-distance apart.
- Step your left foot back about 3-4 feet and turn your left foot out to a 90-degree angle, keeping your right foot facing forward.
- Bend your right knee until it is directly above your right ankle, making sure your knee is not extending beyond your ankle.
- Raise your arms to shoulder height, with your right arm reaching forward and your left arm reaching back.
- Keep your gaze over your right fingertips and hold the pose for 5-10 breaths.
- Release the pose and repeat on the other side.
While in Warrior II pose, it’s important to keep your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears, and to engage your core muscles to protect your lower back. As with any yoga pose, listen to your body and modify or come out of the pose if you experience any discomfort or pain. Incorporating Warrior II pose into your yoga practice can help to alleviate neck and shoulder pain while also building strength and improving posture.
Thread the Needle
Thread the Needle is a yoga pose that stretches the muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and neck. It’s a gentle, restorative pose that can be done by people of all ages and fitness levels. To do Thread the Needle, you’ll need to start on all fours and then move into a modified version of a seated twist.
- Start in a tabletop position, with your hands and knees on the ground.
- Slide your right hand underneath your left arm, coming into a modified side plank position. Your right shoulder should be resting on the ground.
- Reach your left arm up towards the ceiling and then thread it through the space between your right arm and torso.
- Rest your left shoulder and the side of your head on the ground.
- Hold the pose for 5-10 deep breaths, then release and repeat on the other side.
The Puppy Pose is a yoga pose that can be helpful for relieving neck and shoulder pain. Here are the steps to perform the pose:
- Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
- Walk your hands forward, keeping your arms straight, until your forehead is resting on the mat and your chest is lowered towards the floor.
- Allow your shoulders to relax and let your chest sink towards the ground.
- Keep your hips above your knees and press your hands into the mat to lengthen your spine.
- Breathe deeply and hold the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- To come out of the pose, slowly walk your hands back towards your knees and come back up to a tabletop position.
Remember to listen to your body and only go as far as feels comfortable. If you have any neck or shoulder injuries or limitations, be sure to talk to your doctor or a qualified yoga teacher before attempting this pose
Mountain Pose, or Tadasana, is a basic standing yoga posture that can help alleviate neck and shoulder pain. This pose helps to improve your posture, strengthen your legs, and relieve tension in your neck and shoulders. Here are the steps to perform Mountain Pose:
- Begin by standing at the front of your mat with your feet hip-width apart, your toes pointing forward, and your arms by your sides.
- Root your feet into the ground and engage your leg muscles. You should feel your quadriceps (front of the thighs) and glutes (buttocks) engage.
- Roll your shoulders back and down, and open your chest. Draw your shoulder blades towards each other and lift your chest. Keep your chin parallel to the floor and lengthen through the back of your neck.
- Bring your hands to your heart center in a prayer position. Press your palms together and draw your elbows towards each other.
- Take a deep inhale, and on the exhale, relax your shoulders down your back and lengthen through the crown of your head. Hold the pose for a few breaths, then release.
You can perform Mountain Pose several times a day, particularly if you have a job that requires sitting for extended periods. This pose can also be helpful to prevent neck and shoulder pain from occurring in the first place.
Extended Triangle Pose
Extended Triangle Pose, or Utthita Trikonasana in Sanskrit, is a classic standing yoga posture that can help alleviate neck and shoulder pain. This pose can help improve spinal alignment, strengthen the core, and stretch the muscles in the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
To practise Extended Triangle Pose, follow these steps:
- Begin in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Turn your right foot out to a 90-degree angle and your left foot in slightly.
- Inhale and extend your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your palms facing down.
- Exhale and reach your right hand forward, placing it on your right shin or ankle. Keep your left arm extended upward, reaching towards the ceiling.
- Make sure your hips are facing forward and your torso is facing to the side. Your right leg should be straight and your left leg should be strong and engaged.
- Hold the pose for 5-10 deep breaths, then release and repeat on the other side.
Tips for Practicing Extended Triangle Pose:
- Keep your gaze forward or upward, depending on your level of flexibility. Avoid looking down, as this can strain the neck.
- Keep your spine long and your chest open. Avoid rounding the shoulders or collapsing the chest.
- If you have trouble reaching the floor with your hand, you can use a block or a chair for support.
- Listen to your body and only go as far as feels comfortable. If you feel any pain or discomfort, back off and adjust the pose.
Incorporating Extended Triangle Pose into your yoga practice can help alleviate neck and shoulder pain over time. Remember to practice regularly and with patience, as it may take time to see results.
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, also known as Ardha Matsyendrasana, is a powerful yoga posture that can help to alleviate neck and shoulder pain. It is named after the legendary yogi Matsyendra, who was believed to have first taught the practice to his disciple, Gorakshanath. This pose can provide a deep stretch for the upper body, helping to ease tension and discomfort in the neck and shoulders.
To perform the Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, follow these steps:
- Begin in a seated position with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
- Bend your right knee and bring your right foot to the outside of your left hip, placing your right heel on the floor.
- Bring your left foot to the outside of your right thigh, crossing your left leg over your right knee.
- Place your left hand on the floor behind you, supporting your weight as you lift your torso up.
- Inhale and raise your right arm up, reaching towards the ceiling.
- Exhale and twist your torso to the left, bringing your right elbow to the outside of your left knee.
- Place your left hand on your right knee and use it to deepen the twist.
- Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths, then release and repeat on the other side.
As you perform this pose, focus on keeping your spine long and your shoulders relaxed. If you feel any discomfort or pain, ease out of the pose slowly and gently. Remember to breathe deeply and stay mindful of your body throughout the practice.
Regular practice of Half Lord of the Fishes Pose can help to improve flexibility and mobility in the neck and shoulders, reducing pain and discomfort caused by tension and stress. Incorporate this pose into your regular yoga routine for optimal benefits.
Child’s Pose yoga
Child’s Pose is a simple yoga pose that can provide relief for neck and shoulder pain. It is also a relaxing pose that can help you de-stress and unwind after a long day. Here’s how to do Child’s Pose yoga for neck and shoulder pain:
- Start on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
- Bring your big toes together and sit back on your heels, separating your knees as wide as your hips.
- Slowly lower your forehead down to the floor, stretching your arms out in front of you.
- Place your hands on the floor, palms facing down, with your fingers spread wide.
- Take a deep breath in and exhale, allowing your body to sink deeper into the pose.
- Relax your neck and shoulders and hold the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- To come out of the pose, slowly lift your forehead off the floor and sit up on your heels.
Child’s Pose is a gentle yoga pose that can be modified to suit your needs. If you have knee pain, you can place a cushion or blanket under your knees for support. If you have tight shoulders, you can bring your arms back along your sides instead of stretching them out in front of you.
Child’s Pose can be a great way to release tension in your neck and shoulders. It can also help you relax and calm your mind. Incorporate this pose into your daily yoga routine for a healthier, happier you.
Sphinx Pose, also known as Salamba Bhujangasana, is a gentle yoga posture that can help alleviate neck and shoulder pain caused by stress, poor posture, or repetitive strain. This pose targets the upper back and neck muscles, improving flexibility and relieving tension in these areas.
Here’s how to do Sphinx Pose:
- Begin by lying face-down on your mat with your legs extended behind you and your hands at your sides. Take a few deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
- Bring your forearms to the floor, with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders and your palms flat on the mat. Your forearms should be parallel to each other, shoulder-width apart.
- Press down through your forearms and lift your chest off the ground, using your back muscles to support the movement. Keep your elbows close to your sides and your shoulders away from your ears.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing deeply and relaxing any tension in your neck and shoulders. To come out of the pose, slowly lower your chest back down to the mat.
- Repeat the pose 2-3 times, gradually increasing the duration of each hold as you become more comfortable with the posture.
Tips for Sphinx Pose:
- If you experience any discomfort in your lower back, place a folded blanket or towel under your hips for support.
- Keep your gaze forward and your neck in a neutral position, avoiding any strain or tension in the neck muscles.
- If you have any neck or shoulder injuries, consult with a healthcare professional before attempting this pose.
Sphinx Pose is a simple yet effective yoga posture that can help reduce neck and shoulder pain caused by tension and stress. With regular practice, you can increase flexibility and strength in these areas, improving your overall posture and reducing the risk of future pain and injury.
Other Health Benefits of Yoga
Now that you’re armed with the best yoga poses for neck and shoulder pain, you can practice them at home. Some of them are even good to do at the office, especially if you sit at a desk most of the day. When your pain goes away, don’t stop doing yoga! It has many, many benefits. Yoga can help you lose weight, increase your energy, and eliminate stress. Even 10 minutes a day can make a world of difference.
About the Author:
Dr. Brent Wells founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in 1998. He is a graduate of the University of Nevada where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree before moving on to complete his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College. The goal for Dr. Wells is to treat his patients in Alaska through physical therapy, chiropractic care, and massage therapy with care and compassion while providing them with a better quality of life.