Neck pain can be caused by any number of different things: stress at work, “text neck,” injury, or chronic illness. Addressing the root cause of neck pain is the most important way to approach full healing, but addressing the ache is important, too. Neck pain exercises and stretches for neck pain are a simple way to provide pain relief and increase range of motion.
35 neck pain exercises and stretches that can help you find relief
When neck pain hits, stretching out those muscles works out any kinks, tightness, or tension that may be causing the discomfort. Releasing tension from neck and shoulder muscles may also help reduce the frequency of tension headaches. These easy neck pain exercises and stretches for neck pain can be done anywhere and take just a few minutes to complete. Try several of these neck pain exercises to see which one works the best for your pain. When performing these exercises for neck pain, take care to listen to your body and avoid pushing it too far.
1. Side neck stretch
From a neutral position, gently let the head fall down to the right shoulder. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds before completing the same stretch on the other side. Repeat the stretch 2 to 3 times on each side. Keep the shoulders down and relaxed. If you’d like a little extra stretch, place a hand gently on top of the head, letting the weight push the head down a little further. If you feel any pain, ease off.
2. Rotation neck stretch
Start in a neutral position before slowly turning the head to the right, keeping the chin level. Turn the head as far as possible while looking over the right shoulder. Hold at the maximum stretch for about 10 seconds. Return to neutral and repeat on the other side.
3. Isometric neck exercises
Stretching may help alleviate pain, but doing neck pain exercises with resistance has been proven to provide as much as four times the benefit, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The exercise for neck pain tested in the study used resistance bands, but a similar effect can be achieved by using the hands.
Try holding the palm of the right hand against head, directly above the ear. Gently push the head and the hand into each other while keeping the neck in a neutral position for about six seconds. Rest for ten seconds and repeat on the same side. Then, complete two repetitions on the left side.
After exercising the sides of the neck, try placing the hand on the forehead, pushing the head forward into the hand for six seconds. Repeat two times. Finally, place the hand on the back of the head, pressing together for six seconds. Rest and repeat.
4. Front shoulder stretch
Straighten the left arm in front of you before moving it to the right, across the body. Bend the right arm, catching the left arm in the elbow crook. Gently stretch the left shoulder for a count of five. Repeat on the other side.
5. Back shoulder stretch
Lift both arms overhead. Bend the right arm and capture the left arm with the right hand, just above the elbow. Gently let the left arm fall down, stretching the right shoulder. Let the arm fall down as far as feels comfortable. Hold for about five seconds before repeating on the other side.
6-10. Five more neck pain exercises from Maryann Berry
Maryann Berry from BreakingMuscle.com offers guided advice on neck pain exercises you can do to relieve tension and pain.
Using yoga for neck pain
Yoga is another excellent way to improve strength and flexibility in the body. The deep breathing that comes with yoga helps practitioners become more aware of the tension in their bodies, and consistent yoga practice helps to release stress and the pain that it can bring. One of the main areas people hold stress is the neck and upper back. When these areas are tight, headaches can result. We often spend long hours hunched over a computer, and when we are tired, our shoulders slump forward into our chests, our head juts forward, and neck pain and headaches result. Yoga for neck pain can help you release that tension.
Just a few simple exercises can help relax and release the tension in your neck and shoulders while easing your aching head. Many of the stretches for neck pain focus on areas other than the neck. The shoulder, neck, and back muscles are all interwoven and overlapping, connecting to each other and the entire shoulder girdle. When one is tight, others will exert themselves to compensate.
11. Wide-legged forward fold
A wide-legged forward fold is a good place to start with these stretches for neck pain. Stand with your feet about three or four feet apart. Inhale, then on an exhale, fold over. Try to keep your legs engaged and your back straight. You can stop halfway down and rest your forehead on a chair or a counter, or you can go all the way down. Keep your core engaged and your legs firm, and let your neck and head relax. Hold for several breaths, letting everything go. Rise up on an inhale, slowly.
12. Standing forward fold with shoulder opener
Stand tall with feet parallel and hip’s width distance apart. Inhale, lengthening the crown of your head to the sky. Exhale and lengthen your tailbone down towards the floor, just enough to engage the muscles of your low belly. Interlace your hands behind. Inhale and reach your hands towards the floor behind you as you look up, pressing your sternum to the sky (keep that tailbone rooting down to protect your lower back).
On your next exhale, hinge forward from the hips, folding forward. Bend your knees if you need to protect the back of your knees. As you fold, bring your clasped hands up and over your head as far as is comfortable. Stay in this position for five deep, even breaths.
To come up, release the clasp of your hands and bring your hands to your hips. Bend your knees slightly, and on an inhale come halfway up. Stay there for the exhale, then on your next inhale, press your feet into the ground to rise all the way up out of this exercise for neck pain.
13. Strap stretches
Sit comfortably with spine tall and tailbone lengthening down. Take a strap or belt in both hands and raise your hands above your head. Relax your shoulder blades down the back and lengthen your tailbone to the ground while reaching towards the sky with the crown of your head. With hands wide, exhale and lower the arms down in front of you, keeping your elbows straight. Inhale your arms back above your head, then exhale and lower your arms all the way behind you without bending your elbows.
You may need to widen your hands on the strap to keep your elbows straight. If you have a shoulder injury, approach this exercise carefully and only go as far as you can go safely. Always back off if you feel any stabbing pain. Continue to breathe, lengthen your tailbone down and your crown up, and try to keep your head centered above your shoulders (no jutting forward). Repeat three times, front and back, breathing slowly and evenly.
You can also practice stretching your shoulders by placing your hands on the strap as shown below. Again, go into this, and any of these stretches for neck pain, slowly and carefully.