5 Exercises for Chronic Neck Pain
In this article, we will review 5 simple exercises and stretches that have been known to be helpful for many chronic neck pain conditions.
Before beginning any neck stretching or exercise program, one should be advised to consult a health professional. Neck and shoulder pain could be coming from something as simple as a muscle spasm from sleeping the wrong way, or as serious as a herniated disc or space occupying lesion. Shoulder pain is often not coming directly from the shoulder, but traveling down from the neck. It can be helpful to address both of these areas.
Why are exercises or stretches effective for addressing and helping relieve neck pain? When neck muscles are weak, the neck is predisposed to injury and is more likely to suffer postural defect. Postural defect displaces gravity and pressures on the spine to places that it was not physiologically designed to tolerate well. Muscles if tight will further distort the neck joints. You need to use simple and effective stretches to help ease tension in the neck muscles. These are muscles that get little rest with your day to day activities.
Please be advised that neck stretches and exercises should always be performed in a slow and smooth fashion. Especially for those who suffer from acute neck pain due to a stiff neck, pinched nerve in the neck, cervical radiculopathy (traveling pain) or other severe pain- make sure you do the motions slowly and under the supervision of your doctor or therapist initially. If anytime you feel sharp pain or a “twinge” in the neck, stop doing that exercise immediately.
1. Neck retraction
Lie down on the bed. Now slide the back of your head away from your shoulders – think about lengthening the back of your neck. Your head will tilt forward slightly and your chin will tuck into your neck. Pull your chin in as far as you can and press the back of your neck into the mattress for 10 seconds, then relax. Do 3 sets of 10.
2. Neck extension with rotation
Sitting tall with shoulders relaxed down and back, extend head back as if looking at the ceiling. Only go as far back as you can without increasing pain or inducing radiating symptoms (pain or tingling coming down into arm). From there, slowly ROTATE head (as if saying “no”) a few inches to the right and then left of midline, holding in each position for a few seconds. Always return to midline before returning head to neutral. Repeat 3 times.
Although this is a very helpful exercise for some, tilting the head back can pinch the nerves at the back of the neck, so it’s best avoided unless you have been given the all-clear to do so by a professional.
3. Stretching your trapezius (muscles connected from your neck into your shoulder blade and mid back)
Sitting tall in a chair, hold the edge of the chair with your right hand, to prevent you lifting your right shoulder. Keeping your chin and head neutral looking straight forward, lower your left ear to your left shoulder. Lift your left hand and rest it gently over your head, fingers touching your right ear. Don’t press down, just feel the weight. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat the whole exercise on the other side.
4. Stretching your Levator Scapulae (muscles connected from your neck into your scapula)
Same as stretch above with the following exception: After you bring your left ear to your left shoulder, turn your head to the left and flex head forward (chin to chest and nose toward elbow). Let body lean to feel a stretch in the back and side of the lower neck on the right. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat the whole exercise on the other side.
5. Neck rotation to increase range of motion
The final exercise is simply to turn your head from side to side. Keep your head upright, and turn to look as far as you can over each shoulder without forcing it.
One might also find benefit from application of cold pack or ice over the neck after to bring down any inflammation.
Having a health care professional fully assess your condition and make an appropriate diagnosis is the first step to addressing these messages of pain. Once it is determined that your condition is one that can be helped by simple exercises and stretches, it is important to perform them with consistency. Strengthening and stretching alone does not make you sit or move in healthy ways. It’s important to not only perform exercises and stretches for affected areas of pain, but to alter your damaging functional movement mechanics.
Chronic neck pain can get better if you are motivated and ready to regain control once and for all.