What Are Head Rolls?

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  • Written By: Kelly Ferguson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2019
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Head rolls are a series of movements in a stretching exercise that targets the muscles of the neck, and to a lesser extent, the muscles of the shoulder and upper back. They are usually part of a warm up or cool down stretch before and after a workout, but head rolls can also be very relaxing to do periodically throughout the day to relieve tension in the neck, shoulders, and back. In fact, many people consider head rolls to be a great "desk exercise" that can be performed unobtrusively while sitting at a desk at work to relieve some of the muscle tightness that many workers get from stress and from sitting in one position for long periods of time.


A head roll can be performed in a variety of positions, but most commonly is done either standing up or kneeling on hands and knees on the floor. Most fitness resources actually recommend that individuals not incorporate a rolling motion of the head by rotating the neck during the stretch, despite the name "head rolls," and instead suggest that a gentle tilting motion with a return to the center, upright position between each movement is the safest way to perform this stretch. In doing this, the head can be either gently pulled to each side with the hands or simply dropped to the shoulder to let gravity gently stretch the muscles. The head is often also dropped forward, with the chin to the chest, to stretch the back of the neck. Some individuals choose to also drop the head backward, but some fitness professionals advise against doing this to avoid injury.

It is important that all of these movements be performed slowly. Although exercise instructions from many different sources use the phrase "drop the head," it is potentially harmful to actually let the head drop in a quick, jerking motion. Instead, gently raise and lower the head toward the shoulders and chest, and possibly toward the back, making sure to bring the head back to a neutral position between each movement to ensure that the neck is not twisted in a rolling motion.

As with any other exercise, stop the exercise immediately if a movement is painful or uncomfortable. This is especially true of exercises such as this that involve a lot of spinal movement. Also, individuals with back or neck injuries should first ask a doctor if it is safe to perform head rolls and other similar exercises.


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Post 2

I got into a car accident and suffered really bad whip lash a few years ago. As part of my physical therapy I was doing a lot of head rolls. My physical therapist also hooked me up to a special machine that allowed me to do weighted head rolls so that I could build up some strength in my neck.

Post 1

I do a stretching routine every night before I go to bed and I start with head rolls. I think this is one of the most beneficial and pleasurable stretches you can do. There is no feeling more uncomfortable than a stiff neck.

I start with the head and neck and then work my way down the body until I end with the feet and toes. The routine leaves me feeling loose and limber and I think it is as important to full body health and eating well and exercising.

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