4 stretches to relieve a pinched nerve in the neck

IF YOU ARE ONE You know how bothersome the symptoms can be, especially when trying to maintain a fitness regimen.

Weakness and numbness in the fingers can make it difficult to do almost anything. Pain can radiate through the neck, upper back, and arms, making desk work or more committed work and activity tedious. Even disregarding the discomfort, this pain can make strength training with any type of weight on the limit impossible, as holding any weight can be difficult.

Pinched nerves can occur anywhere in the body. But here, physical therapist Philip Tam, PT, DPT of Bespoke Treatments walks us through some stretches to release one of the most common types of pinched nerves in the neck.

What is a pinched nerve?

A pinched nerve is exactly what it sounds like. A nerve is pressurized by surrounding tissue and loses some blood flow as a result. This pressure can be caused by the surrounding muscle, cartilage, or bone, depending on the location of the bruise.

When this pressure builds up, the neurons in our nerves lose some of their conduction pathways, causing symptoms such as numbness, weakness, pain and tingling.

What Causes a Pinched Nerve in the Neck?

Tam specifically addresses cervical radiculopathy, one of the most common causes of a pinched nerve in the neck. He explains that the cervical spine is the part of your spine that makes up your neck. This is made up of seven vertebrae, or spinal bones, and is responsible for supporting and moving your skull. It also houses most of the nerves that spread from the brain to the rest of the body.

Among other things, herniated discs and sore muscles in the neck and arms can cause the vertebrae to put pressure on the nerves, which in turn leads to the numbness and tingling most commonly associated with a pinched nerve in the neck.

Tam breaks down these four stretches for the neck and arms to release that tension.

4 stretches for pinched nerves

Chin Tuck

This movement is simple but effective and helps release compression from the nerve root. It strengthens the muscles at the front of your neck known as the deep neck muscles and stretches the muscles at the back of the neck.

How it goes:

  • Stand up straight and keep your shoulders down and back.
  • Keep your eyes up and look ahead.
  • Tuck your chin down and back as if to avoid an unwanted kiss.
  • Hold for 3 seconds and return to normal. Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Levator Scapula Stretch

Your levator scapula attaches to both your neck and shoulder, and tightness in them can be a common cause of pinched nerves that travel pain down your arm. This will help stretch that muscle and open up some of the joint space in the cervical spine. Be sure to only go where the stretch is comfortable.

How it goes:

  • Stand up straight and keep your shoulders down and back.
  • With your elbows bent, raise your arm to 90 degrees.
  • Look at the armpit.
  • Take the same arm and grab the back of your head.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.

Medium Nerve Silk

The median nerve is one of the largest nerves running down your arm. It is the unfortunate victim in many cases of pinched nerves. This movement helps mobilize that nerve so it fires properly again.

How it goes:

  • Stand up straight and keep your shoulders down and back.
  • Raise the shoulder to create a 90 degree angle.
  • Extend the whole arm to the side and slowly open the elbow before moving to the wrist.
  • Feel the stretch through your palm.
  • If that feels comfortable, you can add a tilt of the head in the opposite direction to open the neck.
  • Start with 2 sets of 8-10 reps on each side. If it feels better on the second round, feel free to add a third set.

Four-legged cat cow

If your main symptoms are neck pain or middle back pain, this is for you. It restores movement in the neck and upper back.

How it goes:

  • Start on your hands and knees and sink your hips back into your heels to take your lower back out of the equation.
  • Round your back and bring your chin to your chest.
  • Arch your back and stretch your neck up.
  • Alternate these two positions and aim for 10 reps for 3 sets.

Especially with pinched nerves, make sure that you only go where you feel comfortable with these movements. If the tingling, burning, or numbness increases, stop what you are doing and seek the help of your doctor or physical therapist.

For more advice from physical therapists to help you move and feel better, check out all of our guides in The Fix series.

Cori Ritchey, NASM-CPT is an Associate Health & Fitness Editor at Men’s Health and a Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. See more of her work at HealthCentral, Livestrong, Self, and others.

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