A pain in the neck can be quite literally that – an annoyance, a constant discomfort, and physically painful as well. If you’ve experienced injury or whiplash, have cervical spondylitis, have tension in the neck brought on by stress, or just have neck pain due to bad posture, some neck exercises can help treat neck pain. Remember, not everyone needs professional physiotherapy for neck pain. Sometimes, a few simple neck exercises can make all the difference.
Why Exercise For Neck Pain?
According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, UK, it is important to keep up movement even when your neck hurts. That’s because the absence of movement for a prolonged period can make the muscles of your neck weak, making you more susceptible to strain and future injury. Exercise can help build up stamina as well as strengthen neck muscles, ease stiffness, alleviate pain, and improve flexibility.1
How Long Do You Need to Exercise To Relieve Neck Pain Or Stiffness?
You should see a huge improvement in about two weeks if your aches and pains and stiffness in the neck are linked to muscle soreness or weakness. In about 4 to 6 weeks, you should have regained flexibility and the pain should subside. If it doesn’t, it could be a more serious problem that needs attention. For chronic pain, you may need to keep up a regimen on an ongoing basis.2
How Often Should You Do Neck Exercises To Overcome Pain Or Stiffness?
Whether you are doing exercises to treat a stiff neck or for neck and shoulder pain, you should aim to do cervical exercises twice a day, according to the North American Spine Society.3
A Word Of Caution: Do remember to check with your doctor or therapist before you do these exercises, especially if you have a more serious neck problem or are recovering from an injury or accident. Never push yourself to do these exercises if you feel pain. If your neck pain is accompanied by tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arm, a doctor’s visit is definitely called for.
Exercises And Steps To Reduce Pain And Strengthen Your Neck
1. Correct How You Walk!
One basic fix, suggested by the North American Spine Society, is to simply ensure your posture is right when you walk. So, here’s what you can do to get your posture right.
Steps To Follow
- Hold your head in a neutral position, keeping your shoulders back and your chest up.
- Your ears should be directly over your shoulders if someone looks at you from the side.
- Your head shouldn’t lean forward because that can worsen neck pain.
- Hold your head and neck upright, without allowing it to slump. This can take some effort like any exercise but is well worth it.4
2. Neck Tilts
Neck tilts, both side to side and up and down, are a good place to start your exercises for a stiff neck or neck pain relief. They allow you to gently work your muscles to regain movement especially if you haven’t been working the muscles for a while due to the pain.
Steps To Follow
For the up and down variant,
- Simply bring your head down so your chin touches your chest.
- Now tense the muscles in your neck and hold the position for 5 seconds.
- Bring your head back to the neutral position.
- Do 5 such repetitions.
For the side to side variant,
- Tilt your head sideways, letting your ear move out first until your head touches your shoulder.
- Tense and hold for 5 seconds before returning to the central position.
- Repeat this 5 times as well.5
3. Neck Stretches
Stiff neck exercises usually involve some form of stretching. Stretching your neck can help both preserve and expand the range of motion you can achieve in any affected cervical/neck joints. This can ease stiffness.
Steps To Follow
- Hold your body straight pushing your chin outward so you can feel your throat stretched.
- Now tense your neck muscles.
- Hold this position for about 5 seconds.
- Bring your head back to the center and push backward with the chin kept up. Hold this for 5 seconds.
- Repeat this process 5 times.6
4. Isometric Strengthening Exercises
Isometric strengthening exercise can go a long way in easing neck and shoulder pain. This is good for those who have neck pain that is worsened with movement. So if you feel more pain when you move your head to exercise, isometric strengthening allows you to strengthen your neck muscles without actually moving them. In other words, you gain without the pain.
Steps To Follow
- Sit down with your back supported and head in a neutral position.
- Put the palm of your hand sideways across your forehead.
- Try to push your hand using just your head and neck while using your hand to resist and movement of the head.
- Keep up this pushing for about 10 seconds at a time before relaxing.
- Do this three times.7
There’s also a variant you could try.
- Bend your neck to the sides with the hand placed against the side of your head.
- Use your head and neck to push and your hand to resist movement.
- You can also do this with your hand put behind your head – attempt to push your head and neck backward in this form of the exercise.8
5. Strength Training With A Resistance Band
You will need to run this strength training exercise by your physiotherapist or doctor before doing it. It has helped patients in one study find “considerable or complete” pain relief. What’s even better is that the effects lasted long after the strength training ended.
Steps To Follow
- Do this exercise seated on a chair.
- Begin by putting the back of your head into the loop of a resistance band which has its ends secured to a stationary immobile object that’s level to your head.
- Ensure your back and neck remain completely straight as you gently lean forward using your hips.
- Do this until your head has moved about a foot from its original upright position.
- Gently return to the original position keeping your neck straight and shoulders back.
- Around 15 repetitions of this are suggested.9
6. Yoga For Neck Pain
Yoga can help strengthen connective tissue and muscle. It also improves posture and proper alignment of your body. Those with tension-related neck pain can also benefit – yoga calms the mind and body, which in turn can ease symptoms like neck pain.Some postures that are known to be beneficial include:10
Standing Mountain Pose Or Tadasana
- Simply stand with your feet apart at hip distance. Ensure you are able to stand comfortably and feel stable.
- Feel yourself releasing the tailbone towards the ground. Your stomach should be drawn in and up. Make your rib cage rise up and out of the pelvic region.
- Move your shoulder away from your ears, keeping them relaxed.
- Stretch the top of your head up toward the room’s ceiling. Your spine should feel stretched and elongated. It is almost like you are being pulled up by someone.
- Ensure your chin stays parallel to the floor. Keep your breathing deep and slow. Your face and throat too should be relaxed.
- Hold the pose for a minute.
Seated Mountain Pose
For those unable to stand, a seated variant of the mountain pose can be performed.
- Simply sit on a chair with feet hip-width apart.
- Put your palms on your thighs. Push your sitting bones into the seat of the chair.
- Look straight ahead, pointing your head towards the ceiling. Your shoulders should stay relaxed and down/back.
- Picture your spine lengthening and your rib cage expanding as it rises up.
- Hold for half a minute to a minute.
- Sit down or stand in the mountain pose.
- Lift your shoulders upwards towards your ears, inhaling as you do so. Your head should stay soft yet erect.
- Push out of your chest to rotate your shoulders. Squeeze your shoulder blades together rotating to complete a circle.
- Once you’re back in the mountain pose, start again.
- Get into seated or standing mountain pose.
- Extend arms and bend elbows, bringing fingertips to shoulders.
- Open elbows out to squeeze shoulder blades.
- Then bring elbows forward, letting your shoulder blades slide apart.
- Stand and lean with knees bent flexing from your hips.
- Lengthen your spine and keep bending till your tummy touches your thighs. Let the head hang free.
- Use fingers to massage neck and ears.
- Turn your head from one side to another.
- Come up keeping your spine neutral.
|↑1, ↑2||Exercise advice: neck pain. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy(UK).|
|↑3, ↑4, ↑7, ↑8||Cervical Exercise: The Backbone of Spine Treatment. North American Spine Society.|
|↑5, ↑6||Exercise advice: neck pain.The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy(UK).|
|↑9||Neck Pain Responds to Exercise. Arthritis Foundation.|
|↑10||Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain. American Council on Exercise.|