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Why do I have a stiff neck?

Stiff neck, sore back, tight shoulders? Any or all of the above? Top tips on what to do. Written by Hui Le Ngoo, Physiotherapist

Personally, I am all too familiar with the stiff, sore, tight sensations in the neck, upper back and shoulders that are associated with poor sitting posture. Before working at In Stride Health Clinic as a physiotherapist, I spent six of my golden, youthful years at university studying long hours. Having been an active person all my life, I’ve played multiple sports across a wide range of competitions, particularly soccer and basketball. Additionally, strength training has been a non-negotiable in my life, for as long as I can remember. Therefore, it wasn’t until these university years that I spent slouching with round shoulders… and I started finding it a bit of a struggle to remain pain-free and loose through my muscles and joints.

There is no surprise that most of the population is experiencing similar symptoms, with the high prevalence of desk-based jobs. While there are many possible diagnoses, one of the most common conditions resulting from prolonged sitting with poor posture is called Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS). In UCS, there is an overuse (tightness) of certain muscles and the underuse (weakness) of other muscles, in the neck, chest, and shoulder areas. Other symptoms include neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain, limited mobility, and compromised daily functioning.

Despite being an avid gym goer and sports-lover myself, I still fell victim to this issue. Thankfully, with my passion and personal experience in strength and conditioning, combined with my physiotherapy knowledge obtained from my degree, I’ve managed to come out pain-free, symptomless and stronger than ever at the other end of the tunnel.

So… how do I start treating my stiff neck?

An individualised exercise program is the most efficient and effective way to build strength and introduce flexibility in the relevant muscles for UCS. Everyone’s body moves and behaves differently, with different strengths and weaknesses, and there is no singular one-size-fits-all program that works for everyone. Nevertheless, below is one simple exercise that simultaneously strengthens and stretches opposing muscle groups, which can be helpful for UCS.

Band pull-apart

● You’ll need a light resistance band for this exercise (start with yellow)

● This exercise mainly strengthens the muscles in the upper back, shoulders, and arms

● Practice good form and start with light resistance to decrease injury risk

● Gradually progress the difficulty over time (increase volume or resistance) to build further strength

This is how to perform the band pull-apart:

  1. Hold a resistance band horizontally with both hands, with plenty of “give” and not much tension in the band

  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent

  3. Keep your arms straight and at shoulder height the entire time

  4. Pull the band apart by squeezing your shoulder blades together and bringing your hands out toward the sides

  5. Hold the contraction for 2 seconds, slowly release in a controlled manner, letting your hands come back to the front

  6. Repeat Steps 4-5 for 10 repetitions.

  7. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions of this exercise in total with 1-minute rest periods in between each set

I’m so sore! How do you expect me to do exercises?

Fear not, there are alternative treatment strategies such as massage, soft tissue release, joint mobilisations and heat which can provide relief and alleviate your symptoms. Whilst these are short-term fixes that do not address the cause of the problem, they can be very helpful in making you feel better, and be able to do the things that are important to you, as well as exercises.

In Stride Health Clinic Physiotherapy & Myotherapy can help!

You are not alone - book in with one of our physiotherapists or Myotherapists today for an initial assessment! Through our personalised consultation with you, we can help you identify and address those issues specific to you, and tailor our management plan to you. Our physiotherapists and myotherapists provide short-term hands-on treatment; combined with exercise prescription that is appropriate for you, we are in this together! Let’s fix your posture once and for all, and rid of any symptoms associated with it.

Our physiotherapists at In Stride also have the benefit of being able to utilise our onsite gym & Pilates studio to compliment hands on treatments. Furthermore, our clinic offers postural and fitness equipment such as lumbar support, massage balls and different types of resistance bands, allowing you to take control and self-manage on your journey in becoming symptom-free.


With a keen passion for musculoskeletal and sports physiotherapy, Hui Le is a strong believer in a combination approach of hands-on manual therapy, education, evidence-based management, and a large focus on client-tailored exercise prescription. In addition to working at the clinic, Hui Le has been and continues to be involved with local footy teams.

Hui Le offers hands on physiotherapy, clinical pilates, hydrotherapy and exercise based rehabilitation at In Stride. He is available most weekdays and Saturday mornings.

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