Stretches to ease aches and pains

Emma Mitchell
Physiotherapist at Bupa UK
21 March 2024
Next review due March 2027

For most of us, modern life isn’t designed with our backs, shoulders, and necks in mind. We might spend many hours sat at a desk, driving, or using devices that strain our upper body. But there’s lots you can do to ease any aches and pains in these areas. Here, we share some simple stretches you can do throughout the day to reduce any discomfort and stiffness.

person speaking to a doctor online holding neck in pain

What causes aches and pains?

Some aches and pains in the back, shoulders and neck arise from injuries or medical conditions. But often they are the result of poor posture, lack of exercise and other lifestyle factors. Many activities in modern life require us to sit in an unnatural position. These include:

  • driving
  • texting or looking down at your phone
  • using a computer and mouse
  • watching television
  • crafts such as knitting

Similarly, having weak muscles can lead to discomfort, as you need strong muscles to support your body when moving and sitting. Ideally you should combine a strengthening and stretching routine for the best effects.

Five ways to ease a stiff and painful neck

Neck pain and tension is common and can even contribute to headaches in some people.

Here are five ways you can take control of your stiff and painful neck, today.

  • Check you have the right set up at your desk. Ensuring your desk and chair are at the right height for your body can help. It’s also important to use eyeglasses if you need them, as straining to look at the computer can create tension in your neck.
  • Use ice or heat to ease discomfort. This is particularly useful if you’re suffering from sudden (acute) neck pain or tension. Alternating between hot and cold tends to work best, so you could try ten minutes of ice followed by ten minutes of heat.
  • Keep moving. While it’s tempting to rest completely when you have pain, being completely immobile can actually worsen your neck tension and pain. So, try to do some gentle head and neck rolls, or a short yoga class, walk or swim. But avoid sudden, jerking movements that could cause more strain.
  • Avoid tech neck. This is when you spend a lot of your time tilting your neck down to look at your phone, tablet, or other device. It can result in repetitive stress to your neck, causing pain. Instead, try to hold your phone or other device at eye level. This will allow you to keep your head in line with the centre of your body.
  • Consider massage. Massage may be able to loosen up some of the tightness in your neck, therefore reducing pain. You could see a professional massage therapist, use an at-home massage device or just your own hands. Just be gentle and stop if you feel any discomfort.

Stretches to ease back and shoulder pain

Your shoulders and back can become tight and sore through poor posture, lack of movement and weak muscles. So, staying active, incorporating strength training, and correcting your posture may help. There are also some simple stretches you can add into your routine. The following are four easy stretches to relieve your back tension.

You could also try the following exercises to ease back and shoulder pain.

Cat/cow stretches

Starting on all fours, with a flat back:

  • slowly inhale as you drop your hips and open your chest
  • as you breathe out, arch your spine up land release your head and neck
  • alternate between these two moves slowly 5 to 10 times
  • you can repeat this during the day to help reduce tension from sitting

Thread the needle

Starting from all fours:

  • inhale as you lift your left arm to the ceiling -turning your head to look at your arm
  • as you exhale, lower your arm under your body, between your right shoulder and knee
  • repeat a few times on each side

Childs pose

Staring from all fours:

  • send your hips back towards your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you
  • your knees should be the width of a yoga mat
  • you can rest your forehead on the floor or use a block or book if it doesn’t reach
  • hold for a minute or so before releasing

As well as stretching, try to add some core work into your exercise routine. This can help as a strong core is needed to support your back, and your posture. Adding in some Pilates type moves, or some bodyweight exercises such as planks, may increase your core strength and ease your back pain.

Stretches for sore shoulders

When you have stiff shoulders, it can lead to aches and pains in your neck and back, so it’s a good area to focus on. Shoulder tension may be caused by sitting down for too long, poor posture, or even sleeping in an odd position. Here are some simple stretches you can try.

Shoulder raises

You can do this either sitting or standing

  • keeping your arms by your sides, slowly raise your shoulders towards your ears
  • hold for a few seconds then release your shoulders back down
  • repeat 10 to 15 times

Shoulder rolls

Either standing or sitting:

  • roll your shoulders up, back, and down
  • when you have done this 10 times, go in the other direction – up, forward and down

Cross arm stretch

  • stand up and bring your right arm across the front of your body in a straight line
  • use the other hand to hold the arm in place and hold for around 30 seconds
  • repeat on the other side

Hopefully these stretches will help to ease your aches and pains. But, if you’re not feeling better after some lifestyle changes, then get in touch with a doctor or physio for further support.

If you have a muscle, bone or joint problem, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get advice from a physiotherapist usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Emma Mitchell
Emma Mitchell
Physiotherapist at Bupa UK



Julia Ebbens, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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