Pinched Nerve Neck ExercisesNeck stretching and strengthening exercises can be very effective at reducing neck pain and discomfort both in acute and chronic conditions. However, a pinched nerve in the neck may mean that some exercises are inadvisable as they have the potential to actually exacerbate your condition and worsen your neck pain.
As a pinched nerve may occur at many points in the complex area of the cervical spine it is important to discuss your particular symptoms with your doctor prior to carrying out any of these exercises and, ideally, creating a specific programme of strengthening and stretching neck exercises for a pinched nerve with a physical therapist.
Stiff Neck and Aching Pains
Stretching exercises aim to preserve or restore the range of motion of the neck, ensuring that the muscles of the neck and upper back are loose and supple, rather than stiff and more injury-prone. By stretching the neck the stiffness that can cause aches and pains and lead to further inflammation can be relieved, often resulting in the improvement of the symptoms associated with a pinched nerve. While many cases of pinched nerves heal spontaneously with sufficient rest, there may be some incidences that require a little longer, further intervention, or specific treatment; these options should be discussed with your physician.
Gentle stretching exercises performed each morning can help to alleviate stiffness and these can also be done just before bed for extra benefit. Any sharp neck pain whilst doing the exercises should prompt you to cease that particular stretch; some mild muscular aching may be felt which is normal. As you conduct the exercises take care to control your breathing as it is easy to tense up and hold your breath without realizing – this risks injury to the muscles as they are starved of oxygen and become stressed. The basic rule of thumb is, as in most yoga practice, to exhale as your conduct the movement and breathe into the stretch.
A simple stretch to begin is the forward neck bend which involves tilting the head forward so as to touch your chin to your chest (with your mouth closed). Hold this for a couple of seconds and then release the head back to its upright position gradually as your breathe out. Repeat ten or so times and remember to relax your other muscles as you do each repetition.
Next, try a shoulder roll, or ten, by holding your arms at your side with your elbows bent. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and roll the shoulders backwards in a circling, smooth motion ten times or so. Then repeat the motion in a forward fashion in order to relax the muscles of the neck and upper back. Take care to breathe regularly and easily.
Rotating the neck can also help relieve a pinched nerve’s symptoms (check with your doctor first). Either sitting or standing, slowly turn your head to look to the left and then hold the stretch for a couple of seconds before returning to the center, rest and then repeat ten times alternating to the left and right.
Sideways Neck Tilt (Lateral Flexion)
The next stretch is a little harder for most people and you should ensure to keep your shoulders relaxed during this stretch. Whilst looking straight ahead tilt the top of your head to one side as if trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. Hold for a few seconds and then return your head to a straight position. Repeat ten times in each direction ensuring a slow, smooth movement each time with no bringing up of the shoulder to meet your ear.
To stretch out the upper back you can conduct a variation on a popular yoga pose, the cat, whilst standing and leaning forwards from the hips. Rest your hands on a low surface, such as a sink of kitchen counter, keep your elbows straight and allow your head to drop forward gently as you gradually arch (round) your upper back. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed and breathe slowly in order to deepen the stretch. Slowly resume an upright standing position with your hands on the counter and repeat the stretch ten times, taking care to exhale into the pose. This can also be conducted whilst on all fours in order to stretch out the whole of the back, but may not be suitable for everyone.
The Levator Scapulae and Trapezius Muscles
A good exercise to stretch out the levator scapulae involves placing your hands behind your head and slowly moving your chin to your chest as you turn slightly to one side. Hold the position for five or so seconds and return to the center. Repeat on each side ten or so times. To stretch out and strengthen the levator scapulae and the trapezius muscle, which is a common site of neck pain take up a position on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor at shoulder width apart. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and feel you neck arch slightly and your head tilt slightly backwards. The upper trapezius (at the top of your shoulders) should be relaxed during this stretch as should your neck. Release the position and repeat.
For each exercise take care to watch your breathing, relax into the stretch and discontinue if you feel any sharp pain. Talk to your doctor about any specific pain you encounter as this can be a sign of further neck pathology which may be easily addressed. Devising a tailor-made stretching and strengthening programme with a physical therapist will give you the best results, otherwise these stretches can help to maintain motion and reduce the likelihood of further incidences of neck pain.