Exercises to Ease Neck Pain

Neck pain and stiffness can have many causes, but in most cases, the pain is a symptom of tight, tired, or injured muscles. However an accident can lead to neck pain, as can poor posture and arthritis. Your neck is sturdy, but it contains many nerves and part of your spine. You should always be careful exercising your neck to avoid hurting yourself.

Since your neck is an important part of your body, it’s important to be gentle with yourself while exercising it. Start any neck exercise slowly and increase your activity as motion feels more comfortable.

Exercises to Help Neck Pain

There are several types of exercises to relieve current neck pain and prevent it from returning later. The goal of these exercises is to relieve tense muscles and improve your range of motion.

Neck exercises should feel like a mild stretch or resistance, but they should never cause you pain. If you notice that an exercise hurts, stop it immediately. If your neck pain continues or gets worse, you should contact your physician. A stiff and sore neck can make it hard to turn your head or engage in physical activity.

The following exercises focus on deliberate stretches and motions to reduce pain and tension without injury. 

Nodding

One of the simplest motions you can do to relieve neck pain is nodding. The goal for this stretch is to keep your shoulders straight. This helps you actually stretch your neck muscles instead of compensating with other muscles.

Step 1: Sit or stand with an upright posture, and your shoulders relaxed. Look straight ahead.

Step 2: Slowly look down, lowering your chin towards your chest. Stop when you feel a gentle stretch in your neck and hold the position for up to thirty seconds.

Step 3: Slowly return your head to a neutral position. 

Repeat this three to five times a day, or whenever you feel neck tension. 

Side to Side Tilts

This exercise helps stretch the muscles on the sides of your neck, relieving muscle tension, and helping reduce pain.

Step 1: Sit or stand with good posture and look straight ahead. 

Continued

Step 2: Gently lean your head to the left, aiming your left ear at your shoulder. Hold this position for up to thirty seconds, then return your head to neutral.

Step 3: Repeat on your right side.

Repeat this three to five times a day, or whenever your neck is tense. You can also deepen this stretch when it’s comfortable by dropping the shoulder that’s opposite of the way you tilt your head.

Side to Side Rotations

If your neck is stiff and it's difficult to look to the side, this is a useful exercise to regain your range of motion. 

Step 1: Starting from a neutral position, gently turn your head 45 degrees to the left.

Step 2: Immediately look to your right, again at 45 degrees. Keep your shoulders still.

Step 3: Return to a neutral position. 

Repeat ten times, making sure you can easily breathe the whole time. Do this twice a day until your neck is no longer stiff. 

Shoulder Rolls

Your neck and shoulder muscles are deeply connected. Tension or damage in your shoulders can cause pain in your neck, and vice versa. Reducing tension in your shoulders can help improve your neck pain symptoms.

Step 1: Sit upright or stand, making sure your back isn’t being supported by anything.

Step 2: Shrug your shoulders up as far as you can, then push them forward. Continue the motion to make a full circle. Repeat five to ten times.

Step 3: Reverse the motion, raising your shoulders then pulling them back. Repeat five to ten times. 

Do this two or three times a day until your neck feels better.

Resistance Exercises

Strengthening your neck can help reduce pain from posture problems, relieving chronic neck pain in particular.

Step 1: Looking forward in a neutral position, gently place one palm just in front of your ear on the side of your head.

Step 2: Gently press your head into your hand and hold for up to 30 seconds.

Step 3: Repeat with the other hand. 

Continued

Do this three to five times daily.

Scapula Stretches

This stretch can help relieve tension in both your neck and shoulders.

Step 1: While standing, place your right hand on the back of your head.

Step 2: Look down and towards the left and gently press on the back of your head.

Step 3: Hold this stretch for twenty seconds, then repeat on the other side. 

You can repeat this two to three times a day for the best effects.

Safety Considerations

If your neck pain continues or gets worse, you should contact your physician.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on February 14, 2022

Sources

SOURCES:

Berkley University: “Neck Pain.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Is Your Shoulder Pain Actually a Neck Problem?”

Health and Quality of Life Outcomes: “Effect of neck strength training on health-related quality of life in females with chronic neck pain: a randomized controlled 1-year follow-up study.”

Mayfield Clinic: “Exercises: Neck Stretches & Strengthening.”

Mayo Clinic: “Neck pain.”

Mayo Clinic: “Neck stretches for the workplace.”

UC San Diego: “Exercise: The Right Program and the Right Preparation.”

University of Washington: “5 Exercises to Prevent an Aching Neck.”

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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