How to Fix Your Tight Neck

A stiff neck can cause weakness, numbness, tingling, and even painful sensations in your arms. Credit: Fredrick Lee / Getty Images

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) might not be a condition you've heard of before, but if you work at a desk or have a job that requires overhead lifting, it could already affect you. TOS is a condition that involves compression around the base of your neck — a part of your body that is prone to tightness due to poor postural habits. Slouching at work or carrying too heavy of a bag on one shoulder are common causes, but TOS can also occur after a traumatic incident, such as a car accident. 

Rounded shoulders force your scalene muscles on the sides of your neck to overwork and tighten up. Because your first rib attaches to the anterior scalene, the tightness will pull on and elevate your first rib. The rib elevation makes things even worse by keeping your scalenes in that tight shortened position, which eventually causes nerve compression. People who suffer from TOS complain of weakness, numbness, tingling, and even painful sensations, usually in the upper limbs. The pain can come and go, or feel permanent. Raising your arms or moving your head and neck can aggravate the symptoms, as can vigorous exercise. 

If, while reading the above paragraphs, you thought "that's me," we have a prescription. TOS is highly treatable with physical therapy and a good home exercise program. The goal: loosen up the tight muscles causing the compression. But your treatment can't stop there. If you don't correct your posture, results will be short lived. That's why it's also crucial to do key strengthening exercises to keep your spine aligned, so you can beat TOS for good. Here's everything you need. Perform these releases and exercises three times a week.

Scalene Release

  • Locate your lateral scalene by placing your fingers right above your collarbone, halfway out to your shoulder. There you should feel the muscle attachment of the scalene.
  • Hold down the muscle and bend your head to the opposite side. You can also turn your head to look toward the opposite shoulder and then return to center.
  • Do this combination of movements until you feel the muscle release. Repeat on the opposite side.

Pec Release

  • Stand facing the wall and place a lacrosse ball two inches below the collarbone and toward your armpit. Lean your body into the ball.
  • Move the ball right and left until you find a tender area. Next, move your arm and shoulder forward and back, then up and down.
  • Do these movements for 45 seconds or until the tension resolves.

Biceps Release

  • Place a lacrosse ball just above your elbow crease. You can also use your opposite hand to apply pressure to your biceps.
  • Flex and extend your elbow back and forth, pressing the ball into your bicep, until you feel discomfort in that area decrease.
  • Move the ball along multiple sore spots up the arm.
  • Perform on each arm for 2 minutes.

Tricep Release

  • Lying on your side, place a foam roller or lacrosse ball under your tricep at tender and tight locations.
  • Extend and retract the forearm, bending at the elbow.
  • Perform 10 to 15 repetitions on each tender and tight spot.

As and Ws

  • Loop a resistance band around an anchor. Stand tall in front of the anchor, feet shoulder width apart with relaxed knees, abs tight, arms next to your body with elbows locked, palms forward, and shoulders relaxed.
  • With your arms hanging straight down, grab a resistance band a few inches out from your hips. While keeping palms forward, squeeze shoulder blades together (pinch them down and back), while bringing arms straight back past your hips, hold for three seconds. Repeat for 3 sets of 15 reps.
  • With the same band, bring your arms out to your sides and bend your elbows to form a W, hands pointed up.
  • Grab resistance band a few inches out from your chest, squeeze shoulder blades together (pinch them down and back), bring wrists straight back with elbows pointing toward the ground. Your hands should line up with your shoulders. Hold for 3 seconds, repeat for 3 sets of 15 reps.

Wall Dips

  • Stand facing the wall, about four feet out, with your feet shoulder width apart and a slight bend at the knees.
  • Place palms against the wall with thumb facing up and fingers pointing to the side.
  • Bend forward at your waist while dropping your chest toward the ground, moving your hips away from the wall.
  • Shrug your shoulder blade down your back as you bend.
  • Come back to starting position. Repeat for 3 sets of 15 reps.