Let’s face it, as we get older our body starts to wear down a bit, Bones crack, joints pop, and muscles suffer. So, when you throw playing guitar for hours at a time into the mix, this can be a cause for concern as far as your muscles and joints are concerned.
Effective stretches to ease neck & shoulder pain when playing guitar
Personally speaking, I’ve suffered from issues with my first rib stemming for a bulging disc in my neck. Now, this is quite rare and might not be your case, and we’re by no means doctors so as the disclaimer says, please consultant a doctor before acting on these stretches or self diagnosing.
Disclaimers aside, these stretches make up my daily routine so that I can play guitar without pain (or at least, with a lot less pain that without the stretches).
I’ve made sure to include posts that focus on improving your posture when playing either seated or stranded (a notorious issue for guitarists who practice every day for hours at a time), movements to free-up your neck and shoulders, and even a few that aim to get the blood flowing in your arms and wrists to avoid those horrid cramps!
Whatever your issue, playing guitar should be enjoyable and not a source of pain. Hopefully these stretches and exercises can help you along your way to a pain-free practice regime:
Neck Tilts (ear to ear)
Lightly dip your left ear to your left shoulder, taking care not to force the stretch. Repeat on the opposite side, taking care to do this stretch lightly.
This is a fantastic stretch for the neck and shoulder, and can be combined with the next stretch for added upper back relief.
Neck Twist (looking away)
Another great neck stretch, start by looking away in a motion that involves your chin moving toward the tip of your shoulder (like you’re looking away over your shoulder).
Again, take great care in doing this neck stretch and as soon as you feel any resistance, stop. It is better to do these stretches a couple of times a day (and lightly) rather than forcing them in the morning and exacerbating any guitar-related injury).
Door Chest Stretch
Your shoulder and even chest can tighten when playing guitar, especially with poor posture. Stretching in a doorway will stimulate the bloodflow and get a really deep stretch into the top of your chest and shoulders, forcing you to stand correctly and really dig into the stretch.
The above video offers fantastic routines for corrective postural stretching procedures in general.
Now, this stretch is a little more obvious, but in a much more subtle way than you may first think. If you’re a guitar player dealing with something like a herniated disk higher-up in your body such as in your neck, this can completely disrupt blood flow and even feeling as far down as the hand and wrist (it’s common for players with herniated discs in their neck to get tingling feelings and often pain in the wrists and arms).
And, whilst stretching the upper body will help lower-down in the arms, your wrists will also naturally become tight and tense after prolonged guitar sessions.
With your fingers either pointing up or down, lightly create tension by pulling with the opposite hand, stopping when you feel a deep stretch.
Final note on stretching
Remember that something like a postural issue related to guitar playing can often be cause over weeks and months of incorrect posture, or just generally playing in a bad position. One handy tip is to imagine a rope is at the top of your head, pulling your head up and your shoulders down (forcing proper form).
If this is your first time correcting posture or guitar playing form you may feel pain in your lower back and other areas, as naturally you’re going to have to strengthen them over time to correct the issues and really start to build-up the muscle to maintain correct form for extended periods of time. Pain from playing guitar, whether pain from building calluses or from sitting in unnatural positions, may require medical attention or at the very least the opinion of a medical professional.
Also, don’t be disheartened if all of your problems aren’t cured in the first five minute of stretching. Sometimes, issues can manifest over a long time, therefore they’re not going to be fixed in an instant! Just like learning how to play guitar with proper technique, you have to practice proper form to keep your spine, neck and shoulder health in check.
Also be sure to check out yoga for neck and shoulder relief for an guided, ongoing, all-in-one stretching routine you can use a couple of times a day: