If you have suffered an injury to your neck such as whiplash or if you are experiencing neck pain, the following neck pain exercises are recommended and may help to heal your neck. They should be performed in a slow and controlled manner and you should stop if you notice new pain or if your neck pain increases. The exercises are designed to restore the movement and muscle control around your neck and to reduce unnecessary postural strain and muscle pain.
When you are performing the exercises, stop and contact your doctor or therapist if you notice:
- Dizziness, light headedness, blurred vision, fainting or disorientation
- Sudden pain shooting down your arm, or numbness or weakness in your arm or hand
- Unusually severe neck pain
- Exercises consistently producing a headache, which persists.
For each neck exercise:
- Move smoothly and slowly, without sudden jerks. The key is precision and control.
- Keep your mouth and jaw relaxed. Keep lips together, teeth slightly apart and let your tongue rest on the roof of your mouth.
- Gently hold your shoulders back and down so that they are relaxed while doing all exercises (see posture correction exercise, exercise 4)
- In movement exercises, try to move the same distance to each side. If one side is stiffer, move gently into the stiffness. Move to that direction a little more often.
- Expect some discomfort, but remember exercises should not cause severe pain.
Neck exercises lying down: Lie down with a soft pillow under your neck, and with your knees bent up.
Chin Tucks: This is a fundamental exercise for neck pain.
Begin by lying on your back with your head in a neutral position. Gently tilt your head so your chin moves towards your neck. You should feel shortening in front of your neck and lengthening through the back of your neck. You are primarily targeting the longus colli muscle with this exercise. Keep the back of your head against the surface (don’t lift up), or your sternocleidomastoid muscles may over-ride the longus colli muscle. If it feels difficult to swallow you are doing it right! Hold for 10 seconds, relax, and repeat 10-15 repetitions.
Cat/Camel Stretch: This encourages general mobility throughout the spine.
Begin on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under yourhips.Gently arch your back (A) and hold for 5-10 seconds. Then allow your back to sag down, bringing your stomach towards the floor (B). Again, hold this for 5-10 seconds. Alternate these movements to enhance motion throughout your spine. Perform 10-15 repetitions in each position.
Scapular Retractions: This is a postural exercise to open up the chest/front and strengthen between the shoulder blades.
Begin standing in a comfortable posture with your hands at your sides. Rotate your hands so your palms face forward (feel how this activates the muscles around your shoulder blades). Without sticking your chest out, squeeze your shoulder blades together by pulling each shoulder blade down and in (each shoulder blade towards the opposite back pocket). Hold for 10 seconds, relax, and repeat 10-15 repetitions.
Shoulder Shrugs: This may seem a bit counter-intuitive at first, because most people have upper traps that are “too strong” or “too tight”, but this is meant as a general mobility exercise, not a strengthening exercise.
Begin standing in a comfortable posture with your hands at your sides. This exercise will combine aspects of the chin tuck and scapular retraction as well. Practice a slight chin tuck in standing, and maintain this neck posture throughout the exercise. Shrug your shoulders straight up (don’t come too far forward). Then slowly lower your shoulders, squeezing your shoulder blades together (practicing scapular retractions). This exercise should be continuous. Count to 3 as you shrug up, and count to 3 as you lower and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Repeat 10-15 repetitions.
Remember to exercise at your own pace. If any of these exercises cause an increase in pain, decrease the intensity. Modify as needed to meet your needs. If exercising is not resolving your pain, consider visiting a good chiropractor or physical therapist to better assist you with your particular dysfunction.