Your neck and/or upper back pain could be caused by a variety of issues. From tight muscles to barometric pressure changes, from hormones to weak muscles; when your neck or upper back start hurting, you want immediate relief.

5 Exercises You Can Do Right Now for Immediate Neck/Upper Back Pain Relief

Below are the very best exercises to help you relieve your neck and/or upper back pain right now.

1. Roll the back of your skull with two lacrosse balls in a sock.

lacrosse ball skull massage

Yes, sometimes pain relief is really glamorous. I came across this trick when I was in physical therapy after my broken neck healed. The therapist put the lacrosse balls in a pillowcase.

I discovered that it was easier to keep the balls in place if they were in a men's tube sock.

Regardless of your lacrosse ball container, lay down on your back and place the lacrosse balls at the base of your skull.

Make subtle head movements. Do little nods. Turn your head slightly to the left and right. Explore what happens when you move your head on an angle (à la back and to the left).

Feel free to hold on to the balls with one of your hands while you move. It's possible the balls could shift.

After you've fully explored the area at the base of your skull, scoot the lacrosse balls down a little bit so you can investigate the top of your neck. Perform all the same movements and stretches.

While you are massaging the back of your skull and upper neck, it's really important for you to take deep, relaxing breaths.

Also, if you notice that you're not able to relax or if the pressure feels too intense, stop what you're doing immediately. You can try another spot or decide to skip this exercise entirely today.

2. Stretch the back of your neck with Head nods.

Look down to stretch the muscles on the back of your neck

Don't let the simplicity of this exercise fool you; it can be easy to lose focus. When this happens, the stretch will be ineffective.

Here's how to make the most out of this simple stretch:

  • Take a comfortable seat.
  • Sit up as tall as you can. Feel your belly button hug toward your spine.
  • Gently move your chin toward your chest as if you were holding an orange on your chest.
  • Don’t jam your chin against your chest.
  • After a few head nods, practice tucking your chin and allowing yourself to roll down one vertebra at a time until you get to the bottom of your neck.

3. Stretch the front of your neck by looking at the ceiling.

Look up to stretch the muscles on the front of your neck

Yes, it's just that easy, but don't discount this simple-yet-effective exercise. Make sure to pay attention to what you're doing and how you're feeling when you practice this exercise.

  • Take a comfortable seat.
  • Sit up as tall as possible. Then, allow your head to rotate so you start to see the ceiling.
  • Take deep breaths to relax your head further and further back.
  • We don’t spend a lot of time this way, so don’t worry if this feels awkward or really tight. When you have that feeling, that’s when you know you’re doing something really important.

4. Look left and right.

Look right and left to stretch your neck

Again, this is another simple exercise.

The key is to be mindful and keep good posture as you turn your head to look to the left. Then, bring your head back to center before you look to the right.

5. Stretch your upper back with Gomukhasana arms.

Gomukhasana arms to stretch your neck muscles

If you're wondering, Gomu-what?, don't worry.

You have probably practiced this effective upper back stretch before and didn't even realize you were doing part of a yoga pose.

Here's what we're going to do:

  • Take a comfortable seat.
  • Sit up as tall as possible. Hug your belly button toward your spine.
  • Bend your right arm and bring it up beside your ear. When you do this, your right hand should be able to pat you on the back between your shoulder blades.
  • Bend your left arm, and keep the upper arm close by your side. When you do this, your left hand should slide up your back, palm facing out.
  • If you can join your fingertips from your right and left hands, go ahead and do so. However, if you can't join your fingertips, don't worry—just hold where you are.
  • Breathe into the stretch.
  • Then, switch sides.

What Muscles Could Cause Neck or Upper Back Pain?

platysma muscle

Thanks to for the platysma muscle image.

When you're trying to figure out what is causing your neck or upper back pain, make sure to check out these muscles:

When you become a member of the Custom Pilates and Yoga community, you’ll learn simple, strengthening exercises to help you enjoy your favorite activities with less pain and more energy.

Call Your Doctor When...

Although these exercises will help you relieve pain if you have tight or weak muscles, they won't do a bit of good if you have skeletal issues or torn muscles or tendons.

You should absolutely contact your doctor if:

  • your pain increases when you do these exercises.
  • you don't notice decreased pain after two weeks.
  • you notice numbness or tingling.

It's okay to want to try to relieve your pain yourself, but it's also okay to get your doctor's help.