Exercises to Cure Your Neck Pain

When your neck is stiff and painful, it's hard to believe that exercise will be the best thing for it. In fact, many people experiencing sudden or acute neck pain would rather not move an inch. Studies show, however, that gentle, progressive exercise is better for your neck than immobilizing it in a brace or doing nothing at all. 

Research published in the British Medical Journal explains that, "Most patients who present with neck pain have "non-specific (simple) neck pain," where symptoms have a postural or mechanical basis... including poor posture, anxiety, depression, neck strain, and sporting or occupational activities. Neck pain after whiplash injury also fits into this category, provided no bony injury or neurological deficit is present." 

Doctors agree the best way to treat a "pain in the neck" caused by poor posture and spinal mechanics is with exercise, (sometimes in conjunction with gentle mobilization movements made by trained therapists) to stretch and strengthen muscles and keep the joints in the neck flexible. These exercises help stiff muscles relax and regain their ability to move properly. They also keep joints lubricated and working within their full range of motion and prevent ligaments from becoming too tight. Once the acute pain is relieved, the next step is strengthening exercises to prevent it from happening again.  

Exercise programs to relieve neck pain are prescribed by medical doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists, specifically to meet the patient's individual needs, but the exercises themselves must be practiced regularly at home in order to do any good. Therapists focus on three kinds of exercises to relieve neck pain:

1. Neck stretches, which help preserve flexibility and range of motion in neck joints, help keep joints lubricated and encourage muscles to relax. These might include stretches to bring the ear close to the shoulder, chin to chest or rotation stretches. They might be prescribed to practice at home daily or several times per day.

2. Neck strengthening exercises help make neck, shoulder, and back muscles stronger in order to prevent future neck pain. These might include bodyweight exercises like yoga, Pilates, or calisthenics and strength training with hand or machine weights or resistance bands. They're also designed to improve posture and keep the back, spine and neck in proper alignment.

3. Aerobic training improves blood flow to the affected area and overall circulation. This might include walking, swimming, or other exercises that increase heart and respiratory rate.

Patients might also need additional treatment like heat, cold, massage, rest, and pain medication. Given time, persistence and regular exercise, your pain in the neck can be a thing of the past. 


Medline Plus: National Institutes of Health. "Neck Injuries and Disorders"

British Medical Journal. "Cervical Spondylosis and Neck Pain." Allan I Binder, consultant rheumatologist. BMJ 2007; 334 doi: 10.1136/bmj.39127.608299.80 (Published 8 March 2007)

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Spinal Manipulation or Home Exercise More Effective Than Medication for Acute Neck Pain, Study Finds"