Up to 50% of the population will experience neck pain. This number is even higher when complaints of tightness, stiffness, and vague neck and shoulder pain are included. Some neck pain causes include: sedentary lifestyle, bad habits, and/or poor posture. To learn about posture, read this!
In this article I will describe 4 neck pain exercises that can be performed anywhere, by anyone, with no equipment necessary, as a way to strengthen muscles in and around the neck, as well as to improve posture and prevent further disabling pain. These neck pain treatment exercises are meant to be low intensity and can be performed as part of a rehabilitation program or as a warm-up before further exercising.
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.