Neck flexion is the action of moving your chin down toward your chest. Even though it’s a simple motion, it’s possible to develop pain, tightness, and decreased mobility in this area.
Causes may include actions as simple as looking down at your phone repeatedly, holding your head in one position, or sleeping incorrectly.
Read on to learn more about neck flexion along with exercises you can do to develop strength, improve posture, and increase your range of motion.
Neck flexion is the movement of lowering your chin down to your chest. This occurs at the joint just below the skull and uses deep neck flexor muscles as well as the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle.
Other neck movements include:
- rotating the neck from side to side
- bending the neck laterally to bring the ear to the shoulder
- extending the neck to lift the chin upward
In neck flexion, a normal range of motion is 40 to 80 degrees, which is measured by a device called a goniometer. This shows how far you can move your neck without experiencing pain, discomfort, or resistance.
Healthy joints, muscles, and bones help to maintain a normal range of motion.
Impaired or limited neck flexion has a variety of causes and usually involves actions that require you to look down often. When it’s the result of looking down at a handheld device, it’s known as text neck.
Activities that can cause neck stiffness and limited range of motion include:
- computer and
- driving or sitting for extended periods
- walking, especially on uneven terrain
- sleeping incorrectly
- sewing, sketching, or writing
- carrying a heavy shoulder bag
- sports that use one side of the body
- repetitive movements of the upper body
The following exercises build strength, relieve pain, and increase range of motion in your neck and upper back. You can do these exercises while sitting or standing.
Use slow, controlled movements and avoid forcing any movements. While moving your neck, keep the rest of your body still to maintain correct alignment and posture.
Neck flexion stretch
This exercise will help loosen your posterior neck muscles and reduce tightness.
- Rest your arms alongside your body and engage your core muscles to stabilize your spine.
- Draw your shoulder blades back and down.
- Slowly draw your chin in toward your chest.
- Hold for 15–30 seconds.
- Do 2–4 repetitions.
To deepen this stretch, place one hand behind your head with your fingertips at the base of your skull to help guide the movement.
This exercise loosens up tight muscles, relieves pain, and reduces spinal pressure. Keep your eyes facing forward the whole time.
- Place your fingers on your chin to push your head as far backward as possible.
- Feel the stretch in the back of your neck.
- Hold for 2–3 seconds before returning to neutral.
- Do 3–4 sessions of 8–10 repetitions all at once or throughout the day.
The goal of these exercises is to lessen the intensity and severity of symptoms. These stretches relieve neck tension and pain, making them the perfect counterbalance to activities that require you to look down repeatedly.
Upward neck extensions
This exercise targets the front of your neck. You can do this exercise by moving with each breath instead of holding the position. Inhale as you look up and exhale as you return to the starting position.
- Begin in a seated position.
- Slowly bend your neck backward and gaze up toward the ceiling.
- Hold this position for 5-10 seconds.
- Do 5 repetitions.
Do this exercise when you first wake up or before bed to relieve pain and increase circulation.
- Lie horizontally across the bed with your head, upper back, and shoulders near the edge.
- Gently maneuver your body to allow your head to stretch along the side of the bed.
- Reach your arms and hands overhead or place them alongside your body for more support.
- Hold this position for at least 30 seconds.
- Release by tucking your chin into your chest and using your arms to shift your body back onto the bed.
- Do this exercise 1–3 times.
This exercise allows you to turn your neck further, making it easier to check for traffic when driving and turn quickly when playing sports.
You’ll feel this stretch along the side of your neck.
- Gently rotate your neck to the left and look over your shoulder.
- Hold this position for 20–30 seconds.
- Perform on the opposite side.
- Do each side 2–4 times.
Apply gentle pressure to your chin to deepen the rotation.
These exercises help to stretch your shoulders and the sides of your neck.
- Start standing or seated with your arms alongside your body.
- Engage your abdominal muscles to support a straight spine and draw your shoulder blades back and down.
- Slowly bend your neck to bring your right ear toward your right shoulder while keeping your shoulders in the same position.
- Hold this position for 5–10 seconds.
- Perform on the left side.
- Do 2–4 repetitions on both sides.
To deepen this stretch, use your hand to apply gentle pressure to your head. If it’s comfortable, stretch the SCM muscle by gently lifting your chin while in the stretch.
This exercise works the side neck muscles that connect to your ribs.
- Interlace your fingers at the base of your spine.
- Lower your left shoulder and tilt your head to the right as far as you can.
- Hold this position for 15–30 seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
- Perform on the opposite side.
- Do each side 3 times.
While it’s normal for neck concerns to develop, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent or help them.
Improve your posture
The easiest way is to work on improving your posture and avoid slouching or letting your head fall forward. Make a habit of checking in with your posture at all times throughout the day.
Don’t sit for long periods of time
If you have to sit for long periods, get up and move around for at least 5 minutes every hour. Do a few stretches or a bit of walking during this time.
Keep your computer screen at eye level
Use a tray or table to change to raise the position of your computer or workspace if you’re doing something that requires you to look down for long periods.
Adjust your sleeping position
To maintain a neutral head position, sleep on your side or your back. Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Use a pillow that allows your head and neck to rest in a straight position.
- Use a backpack instead of a shoulder bag.
- Follow a healthy diet.
- Stay hydrated.
- Don’t smoke.
- If you can, book a massage or acupuncture session a few times per month.
- Some muscle tightness may be relieved by using a heating pad or ice pack before and after stretching.
See a doctor if you have recurring injuries, pain that worsens when you do these exercises, or severe pain that doesn’t go away.
You should also talk to a doctor if you have pain during normal activities, your symptoms move away from the center of your neck, or your pain is accompanied by numbness, tingling, or weakness.
Neck flexion exercises can offer quick relief for neck pain and tightness, help to build muscle strength, and restore mobility. Do these exercises in short sessions throughout the day, as part of a longer fitness routine, or to warm up or cool down.
Find which movements are helping or hindering your progress and adjust if you need. To prevent recurring pain, continue to do daily stretches even after you start to feel better.