Neck Pain Exercises

Neck Pain Exercises For Managing Symptoms & Promoting Healing

Do you have aching neck and shoulders? In the past, the advice was to rest, perhaps use a neck brace, and just wait until it gets better. While there are times when you should rest your neck, like after a recent injury, heath care professionals now recommend neck pain exercises as one of the best treatments for symptoms. It has been shown that motion is better than rest for chronic neck and shoulder pain.

As indicated in a 2020 systematic review with a narrative synthesis in PLoS One, many scientific studies have been done providing evidence that neck stretches and exercises play an important role in easing pain, recovering from injuries and helping to prevent neck and shoulder pain.

Following an injury like whiplash, healing is better and begins sooner, with less chances of having a chronic condition when gentle exercises are done sooner than later. For individuals suffering chronic or long term neck pain, the scientific literature indicates exercises may provide a degree of pain relief, with some showing immediate benefits.

Basic Beginning Stretches: These should be mastered before proceeding.

The research indicates a program consisting of exercises for the neck or along with shoulder exercises were better at providing pain relief than medication, both short term and long term. Studies have also suggested general activity, stretching and strength increasing exercises are beneficial. With many studies indicating a variety of exercises to be beneficial for neck pain, a general agreement on which types of exercises, how often and how much has not been achieved. This is perhaps the reason why, despite the majority of evidence suggesting exercises should be included in managing the relief of neck and shoulder pain, less than half of individuals visiting health care professionals are given exercises for part of the treatment.

neck pain exercises at amazon

How You Can Help Neck Pain With Exercises

If you would like to see if exercises can help relieve any neck and/or shoulder pain you are experiencing, it is always beneficial to have your condition evaluated by a health care professional. A physical therapist or chiropractor may be able to provide you with a specific exercise program based on your particular condition, taking into account your severity of pain, motion limitations, strength of the muscles and any pre-existing conditions. It is always best to have the program include clear goals, including ergonomics and additional ways to improve postural muscle balance, stretches as well as any strengthening exercises.

You can also visit our main page on neck exercises, where we begin with strengthening postural muscles using simple exercises to help ease pain. We also provide detailed instructions for gentle stretching as well as specific strengthening exercises using weights for those suffering from chronic neck and shoulder pain.

With so much of today’s work and leisure involved with computers and remaining stationary for long periods, it makes sense to consider neck stretching and exercises as a part of a more comprehensive approach to managing neck pain. We also have products that can help you achieve better results and help with motivation. The exercises are all designed to be done at home, so there is no excuse about having to get out to the gym or therapy office to do exercises for neck and shoulder pain.

If you have suffered a recent an injury to your neck such as whiplash or if you are experiencing high levels of neck pain, stick to the ones in the video or consult your doctor. The following exercises are recommended to progress after the initial acute stage and may help with further healing of your neck. Neck pain exercises should be performed in a slow and controlled manner and you should stop if you notice new pain or if your neck pain increases. The exercises to help with neck pain are designed to restore the movement and muscle control and to reduce unnecessary postural and muscle strain.

When you are performing the exercises below, you should stop and consult a health care professional if you notice any of the following:

  • Dizziness or light-headedness, blurring of vision, feeling of fainting or any kind of disorientation
  • Pain shooting down your arm, numbness or weakness in your arm(s) or hand(s)
  • An increase in severity of neck pain
  • If the neck pain exercises are producing persistent headaches.

For each of the exercises:

  • Use a slow and even motion, without any sudden jerks. The most important thing is a meticulous attention to control and precision.
  • Hold your mouth and jaw relaxed: lips lightly touching, teeth slightly apart – not clenching, while your tongue rests softly upon the roof of your mouth.
  • Relax your shoulders muscles backward and downward when doing the exercises
  • When performing the exercises, try moving an equal distance to either side. If one side feels stiff and more difficult, try moving gently into the stiffness. Move to that direction a little more often, but no significant pain increase.
  • Some discomfort can be expected, however, the exercises should not cause severe pain.

The Exercises

Lying down: Lay down and rest your head on a comfortable pillow with your knees bent and feet on the floor.

1) The chin nodding exercise:

chin nodding exercises relaxing part
Slowly and gently perform a nodding motion with your head like you are motioning “yes”. With your hand, check the front muscles and stop the nodding motion when you feel these muscles begin to contract. Hold the nodding position for about 5 seconds, then relax by gently moving your head to the starting position. You may do 10 repetitions.

You should note this is the first of the exercises for a reason. This motion is very important in restoring control of deeper muscles that is often lost with poor posture, long term consequences of whiplash and chronic neck pain. This can be done in a sitting or standing position and is great for taking short breaks if you do computer work. This part of the exercises may have an immediate effect in reducing neck pain. It requires some time to practice and learn the correct motion. Please take a short time to review a more detailed view using the correct motion.

2) Head rotation:

head rotation neck exercises head rotation exercises
Carefully rotate by turning your head from one side to the other. Be sure to look in the direction your turning. Try each time to gradually turn your head so that your chin lines up with the shoulders, viewing the wall in line with your shoulders. You can do 10 repetitions to each side.

3) Shoulder blade exercises:

These exercises help relaxation and easing of tension in the top portion of the shoulder muscles.
shoulder blade exercises shoulder exercises
Lay on your right side, arm resting up comfortably on pillows. Retract the left shoulder blade back and across your chest to the middle of your back using a rollin motion. Hold for 10 seconds. Do 5 repetitions.

Repeat this while lying on your left side for the right shoulder blade.

Exercises while sitting:

4) Posture position exercise:

posture neck exercises Make corrections to your posture by gently straightening your low back and pelvis. Carefully pull the shoulder blades backward and downward. Softly tuck your chin inward. Hold this posture gently for 10 seconds.

This position helps prevent and eases muscle pain and tension in the neck and shoulder muscles. Repeat this maneuver on a regular basis – about every half hour during the day if possible. These exercises can be done at work, in a vehicle and just sitting at home.

5) Neck retraction exercises:

Sit in a good posture as shown in # 4.
neck retraction exercises neck exercises

Softly pull the head backward while moving your chin straight back in a sliding motion, making sure to keep your nose pointed straight forward. You should be able to feel this motion in the base of the neck as your neck positions upward and elongated. Do 10 repetitions every hour while you sit.

Neck motion exercises: Make sure you are sitting in the postural position described in exercise # 4. For the exercises below, do 10 repetitions each side.

6) Rotation exercises:

neck movement exercises rotation neck exercises

Softly rotate the head from one side to the other, looking at the direction you are turning to, gradually progressing to see the wall line up with your shoulders. This is a similar exercise to the one in the lying down position. Your neck should stay elongated. Do 10 repetitions every hour when seated.

7) Side bending exercises:

side bending neck exercises bending neck exercises

Carefully bend your head to your shoulder, feeling a gentle stretch in the side muscles of your neck. Performing to each side.

8) Bending and extension neck pain exercises:

bending and extension neck exercises bending and extension neck exercise

Slowly bend your head to your chest, leading the movement with your chin. Move the chin first, bringing the head back to the upright position, then gently rolling it backward, looking upward to the ceiling. Again, lead with your chin and return the head to an upright position. Extension can be a special focus for posture and pain relief and you can see more detailed information and alternative methods with neck extension exercises.

Neck strengthening exercises: (Exercises 9-11) should only be done later in recovery. If you are unsure when to start these, ask your health care professional.

9) Neck strengthening exercises (isometric, no movement exercise):

neck strengthening exercises strengthening neck exercise

Again, sitting in correct posture, make sure your chin relaxes and points slightly downward. Put your right hand on your right cheek area and slowly turn your head into your hand as you look over your right shoulder, however, no motion should take place. Hold this mild contraction of the muscles for five seconds only using about 10 to 20% of your strength. Repeat this using your left hand on the left cheek area. Do 5 repetitions to each side.

Neck strengthening exercises with 4-point kneeling:

4 point kneeling neck strengthening

Assume a 4 point position while kneeling. Start by making sure your knees are placed under your hips with the hands under the shoulders. Your lower back must be relaxed in a naturally formed arch. Carefully pull your stomach area to your spine using only 10% strength. Push gently through the shoulder blades so your upper back is level. Pull the shoulders gently away from your ears, toward your hips. Lift your head up level with your shoulders, keeping a gently tucked chin or nodding position. When you are capable of holding the 4 point kneeling posture, proceed with the neck motion exercises below:

10) Neck bending and extension exercises in 4-point kneeling:

neck bending and extension exercise 4 point kneeling neck bending and extension

Assume the safe 4 point kneeling position and carefully look up toward the ceiling as much as possible. Hold this for 5 to 10 seconds, then slowly bend your neck with the chin nodding action. Continue with the neck bending motion as far as you can go comfortably, trying to touch your chin to your chest. Keep holding the relaxed low back and shoulder blade position detailed above. Do 5 to 10 repetitions.

11) Neck rotation exercises in 4-point kneeling:

neck rotation exercises

Assuming the 4 point kneeling position, slowly turn your neck to one side while maintaining a gentle chin nodding position. Make sure the head remains level with your body, not allowing it to fall down. Doing this exercise correctly, you will be looking over your shoulder at the end of the motion. You may do this part of the neck pain exercises with a mirror so check your head position. Repeat to the other side. Do 5 to 10 repetitions.


Author Bio

Stephen Ornstein, D.C. has treated thousands of neck, shoulder and back conditions since graduating Sherman Chiropractic College in 1987 and during his involvement in Martial Arts. He holds certifications as a Peer Review Consultant from New York Chiropractic College, Physiological Therapeutics from National Chiropractic College, Modic Antibiotic Spinal Therapy from Dr. Hanne Albert, PT., MPH., Ph.D., Myofascial Release Techniques from Logan Chiropractic College, and learned Active Release Technique from the founder, P. Michael Leahy, DC, ART, CCSP.