Neck Pain Exercises

What You Should Know Before Doing Exercises for Neck Pain

When carrying out exercises for neck pain it is of utmost importance to understand that some movements can apply extra and unhelpful strain on the back and neck and actually exacerbate the problem. Knowing the cause of the pain and formulating an exercise regime with a qualified professional is the best way to proceed. If trying to prevent neck pain then there are numerous strengthening exercises which can help including those which work on the lower and upper back.

Proper Posture

The upper back supports neck movement and helps keep the neck and head stable. The lower back and pelvis play important roles in keeping the spine in alignment when standing, walking, sitting or when prostrate. If the lower back is out of alignment then the neck pain will be difficult to alleviate and may worsen.

Neck pain treatment involving exercises should help improve the circulation to an area and keep the nerves and muscles supplied with vital nutrients. This will help with muscle weakness and with innervation of the muscles by the nerves. The tightness and tension of muscles should also be addressed by appropriate exercises such as gentle stretching. Tense muscles can alter the correct alignment of the back and spine, thereby causing pain and spasm. Inflammation can also alter posture and may require medication (whether pharmaceutical or natural) to relieve and allow the underlying condition to be addressed. In addition, it is important that any joint stiffness and reduction in mobility is attended to as a stiff joint may lead to compensation mechanisms and referred neck pain.

Focus of Neck Exercises

Neck exercise focus on four main areas:


Flexion (moving the head and neck forward), lateral flexion (moving the right ear to the right shoulder, and the same for the left), extension (bringing the head and neck back and looking up), and rotation (moving the head and neck from side to side).

Neck Flexion


Neck Exercise Slideshow
An excellent regime of gentle neck stretches for neck pain treatment can include neck flexion where the chin is slowly brought down to rest on the chest and the movement is repeated five times. Neck flexion exercises entirely stretch the cervical spine which is often kept in one position for long periods during daily activities and can shorten and weaken causing mobility problems. Retracting the neck slightly first and then flexing it forward can increase the intensity of the stretch but is not recommended for those with most neck conditions without consultation with a professional.

Neck Extensions

Neck extension exercises involve allowing the head to fall back, slowly and in a controlled way, until the patient is looking directly up. If any dizziness is experienced when doing this exercise then there may be some compression on blood vessels in the neck and this stretch should be left out.

Neck Rotations

A good rotation exercise is simply to turn the head slowly to one side and hold for a few seconds, without any pressure placed to push the head further. Again, dizziness necessitates sitting this exercise out. Side flexions, where the ear is tipped down towards the shoulder whilst the head is facing forward, are difficult to do without rotating the head unintentionally. This stretch can be quite hard on the structures of the neck and may be hard for some to achieve without pain.

The Chicken Tuck Neck Stretch

The chicken tuck is an excellent exercise to counteract the habit many have of sticking our necks out and adopting poor posture. Sitting, slumped in front of the television or at work desks can lead to a slight backward arching of the neck in order to keep the eyes focused horizontally. This position can shorten cervical tissues and lead to stiffness, pain, and headaches. Moving slowly from the pointed chin position to a position where the neck is slightly retracted and the chin a little lowered (giving a double-chin effect in most cases), can help elongate and strengthen those often cramped muscles. Hold in the retracted position for six seconds or so and repeat.

Targeting specific muscles can be helpful in exercising the neck, and a series of isometric exercises work to strengthen the neck muscles but without stretching them. The stretches mentioned above can be conducted as isometric exercises simply by placing a hand, or hands, against the head or neck and preventing the movement from taking place. For example, the side flexion exercise would then involve placing a hand on the side of the head moving towards the shoulder and simply pushing the movement against the resistance rather than actually moving the head. The further exercises below use this basic model but build on it by stretching and then pushing against that stretch. They may, therefore, not be suitable for everyone.

The sternocleidomastoid is the most common problem area involved in neck pain. A good exercise is to turn the head to the side to the point where the muscles are being stretched but not to the point of pain, just as in the neck rotation described above. Then placing a hand on either side of the head to stabilize it, the patient should try to turn their head back to the center whilst applying a small amount of resistance (using their hands) to stop the head actually turning. This should be held for around six seconds and should not cause pain. If pain is felt then less force should be used. After six seconds the hands should be rested and the head returned to face forward. The exercise should be repeated three times on each side. After doing this exercise the head should turn more freely, and further, to the side.

Strengthening Trapezius and Levator Scapula Muscle

An exercise building on the side flexion previously described can help strengthen the upper trapezius and levator scapulae. These muscles help to stabilize the neck and head and keeping them supple can minimize pain to this area. The exercise is similar to that above except this time the head is being tilted down with the ear moving to the shoulder (or as far as it can go). Again, repetition of the exercise three times each day can help improve mobility and strength in the neck.

Extensors Muscle Tension

Exercises to help the extensors muscles in the back and neck can help ameliorate a common site of tension in the body. This exercise is similar to those previous except the head is tipped forward to try to bring the chin to the chest and the arms are placed behind the head for resistance. The head should not be tilted backwards as this is likely to exacerbate any cervical condition.

These stretches can help strengthen the neck muscles and should be done in addition to the other daily motion exercises which help prevent stiffness and vulnerability. Those with neck pain may feel some relief from these exercises, but they are intended more to help with increases in mobility and pain tolerance than for pain relief itself. Repetitions of each exercise should be built up. If the patient can only manage one of each at first then they should keep doing this until they feel comfortable trying more.

Conditions Neck Exercises May Help

Conditions which may benefit from these gentle exercises include:


Exercises should be conducted under the guidance of a healthcare professional. One final point to remember is that it is important to breathe when doing the stretches as this allows the neck muscles to relax and achieve a normal range of motion.




Last Updated: 9/10/2010