Exercises for Neck Pain

Exercises for Neck Pain

Neck Pain, part 3 (exercises)

**As always:  this blog is not intended to diagnose or prescribe specific treatment for individuals.  If you have a history of serious medical problems, questions, or other concerns, consult an appropriate medical professional.**

In part 1 of my series on neck pain, I recommended stretching your neck.  Here are some common stretches to promote good neck movement:

Chin Tucks—lay comfortably on your back.  Relax your entire upper body.  Make a double chin while keeping the back of your head on contact with the floor or bed.  This will press your neck into the floor.  Hold for -10 seconds.  Repeat 15-20 times.  (This can also be performed sitting with your head resting against the headrest of your car, or even standing against a wall)

Upper Back Stretch—Take a tightly rolled towel or foam roller and place it on the floor.  Lay back, placing your upper back on the roll.  Try starting around the shoulder blades.  Place your hands behind your head (like doing a sit-up) and lean back over the roll.  Relax for 2-3 breath cycles.  Repeat 10-15 times.

  • Adjust your placement on the roll to find the position where you get the best stretch. You may have more than one location.

Open Book—lie on you side, arms out in front of you, with your top hip bent and the knee propped up.  Keeping your knee in contact with the pillow or foam roller, reach your top arm toward the ceiling and as far behind you as possible.  Rotating your trunk and head to follow your arm.  Hold 3-5 seconds.  Repeat 15-20 times from each side.

Scapular Retraction (blade squeezes)—sit up straight and pinch your shoulder blades together.  Hold 5-10 seconds.  Repeat 20-30 times.

Upper Trap Stretch (side of the neck)—place one hand gently behind your back.  Bend your head away from that shoulder, bringing your ear to the opposite shoulder.  If you need more stretch, gently rest your other hand on the top of your head, allowing the weight of your hand to add more stretch.  Hold 15-20 seconds.  Repeat 4-6 times to each side.

Levator Stretch (back/side of the neck)—place one hand behind your back like in the upper trap stretch.  Turn your head away from that shoulder.  Drop your chin toward your chest, as if you are looking into a shirt pocket.  Once again, you can use the weight of the opposite hand to add more stretch.  You should feel this stretch more toward the back, and possibly between the shoulder blades.  Hold 15-20 seconds.  Repeat 4-6 times.

Corner stretch (chest stretch)—Place one foot in a corner and both elbows on the wall at about shoulder height.  Your hands should point up to the ceiling.  Keeping head and neck relaxed, shift your weight onto the front foot as if taking a step into the corner.  Hold 15-20 seconds.  Repeat 4-6 times.


Stretching to relieve neck pain is great, but typically the muscles that control posture are also weak.  Here are some basic strengthening exercises for your posture:

Rowing—many people are familiar with this exercise.  You can use machines, cable machines, bands, or free weights.  It can also be done single-arm or double-arm.  From a seated position with arms extended in front of you, pull your arms back like you are “elbowing” someone behind you.  Be sure to use good posture and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together.    Perform 3 sets of 10.

Bird-dog—starting from hands and knees, find a “neutral spine” by sagging and arching your back.  Hold this neutral position and raise one leg backward.  At the same time, raise the OPPOSITE arm.  A stick or rolled up towel placed across the low back can give you feedback about whether you are stabilizing your back well.   Hold 5 seconds.  Repeat 15 times per diagonal.

Wall angels—stand with your feet 8-12 inches from the wall and head, back, and buttocks against the wall.  Tighten your stomach to press your low back into the wall.  Raise your arms to the side as high as you can, keeping elbows and hands against the wall.  Lower and repeat 20-30 times.

Horizontal T’s—lay face-down over an exercise ball, weight bench, or corner of your bed.  Turn your thumbs toward the ceiling and raise your arms, keeping them at shoulder height (making a “T”).  Perform 3 sets of 10.  You can add free weights as you are able to.  Here is a link to a great series of moves that incorporate the “Horizontal T”:



Saturday Night Fever—with light to medium weights, stand with one arm raised to shoulder height  and elbow bent to 90˚ and the other hand at your belly button.  Switch hand positions, alternating belly button and 90/90 arms.  Maintain good posture and keep good control over arm movements.  Perform 2 sets of 15.


Have basic questions about neck pain and common causes?  Check out part 1 in my series on neck pain.  And if you’ve ever wondered why “ergonomics” and posture are big topics in the workplace, part 2 discusses what good posture is, and what you can do to improve yours.

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