Neck Exercises: Dos and Don’ts

Medically Reviewed by Sanjay Ponkshe on June 03, 2023
3 min read

If you have neck pain, you want to get rid of it as soon as you can. One of the ways to do that is through exercise. What should you do? More importantly, what shouldn't you do?

As long as your doctor says it’s OK, you should start as soon as possible to ease stiffness and pain. Resting for too long, usually anything more than a couple of days, will make it harder to get moving again.

Don’t exercise if you have severe neck pain or weakness in your hands or arms. If you get it while you exercise, stop right away and call your doctor.

These simple ones can help:

Neck Tilt: From the sitting position, tilt your head down so your chin touches your chest. Hold this position for 5 seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat. Do this five times.

Side-to-Side Neck Tilt. From the same starting position, tilt your neck toward one shoulder, leading with your ear. Hold for 5 seconds and then return to the starting position. Do this five times on each side.

Neck Turn. Look straight ahead, then turn your head to one side, keeping your chin at the same level. Do this five times on each side.

Neck Stretch. Holding the rest of your body straight, push your chin forward, stretching your throat. Hold for 5 seconds. From the same starting position, push your chin backward and hold for 5 seconds. Do the forward and backward stretch five times each.

If any of these exercises cause severe pain or weakness in your hands or arms, stop right away and talk with your doctor.

Neck pain is common but usually not serious. Your pain should ease within 2 weeks. Full recovery should take 4-6 weeks. As your neck starts feeling better, you can do more of what you're used to.

Even if the pain leaves, don’t stop exercising.

You should keep doing the moves for 6-8 weeks, even if you stop hurting. This will help keep your neck pain from coming back.

You can work your neck muscles like any other muscles. Stretches work, but you can also do simple exercises like the ones below. They can improve your neck strength and your range of motion.

With each of these exercises, start with five repetitions of each and see if you can build up to 10.

Check with your doctor before you start.

Rotations: Stand or sit with your back and your head squarely over your shoulders. Then, turn your head as far as you can comfortably to one side. Hold it for up to 30 seconds. Then turn your head to the other side, and hold it for up to 30 seconds.

Shoulder Circles: While standing, raise your shoulders straight up and move them in a circle one way. Lower your shoulder and repeat in the other direction.

Resistance Exercises: While standing or sitting, put your left hand on the side of your head above your ear. Gently press your head against your hand while holding your head straight. Do the same thing with your right hand.

Head Lifts. Lying on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, lift and lower your head. Make sure you don’t raise your shoulders as you do this. You can also do these lying on your side and on your stomach.

Core exercises can help with your neck pain. Your core is your abdomen, back, and buttocks. If your core is strong and you're holding your head upright as much as possible, your neck won’t have to work as hard.