Exercises for Chronic Neck Pain

Start With Range of Motion

I have found, and the evidence shows, that the ‘right’ type of exercise is imperative for safe and optimal results. If a person is training to be a marathon runner, they will train differently than someone training to be a power lifter. The same thing is true if you are exercising to help your back issues. Most people have been misinformed on what to do in this regard.

Exercising a misaligned structure (like your spine/back) with strengthening exercises only helps to stabilize your mispositioned structure. This is why body builders love chiropractic care since it helps them balance their body which allows for for improved symmetry as they develop more muscle. 

When a patient is in pain and wanting to do exercises to help their neck/back, my first goal, which is in the Chiropractic Oath is to “first, do no harm.” Therefore, any exercise must not irritate your condition. That is why I recommend starting with range of motion exercises before moving into other types of exercise, including strength building. 

To the right are the 3 stages of exercise that I recommend patients go through, and further down this page I will show you specific examples.

Stage 1: Range of Motion Exercises

Range of motion exercises have multiple benefits that include pumping out waste product while pumping in nutrition for faster healing, pain relief, better adjustment holding, and improve nerve flow. Starting the day with range of motion exercises goes a long way in long term pain relief – plus, they are easy to do!

Stage 2: Flexibility Exercises

Flexibility exercises are for once you are feeling better. This will help unload the joints by increasing degrees of soft tissue motion before the joint structure are put under any stress. These should be done as you feel able to without irritating your condition. 

Stage 3: Strengthening Exercises

This is where most people want to start, but truthfully if you do these as the third stage you will maximize your results. The goal of strengthening exercises is to create stability in weaker areas without causing irritation to those areas. These come once you are feeling confident with your range of motion and flexibility exercises.

Forward Head Tilt

One of the most common causes of chronic neck pain in the world today is ‘forward head tilt’. This puts a ton of constant stress on your neck, and can lead to lifelong pain and neck issues. Below are some of the best exercises to start correcting this chronic condition.

Pectoral Stretch

Grasp a door jam and rotate your body outward, allowing your arm to pull back until you feel a firm stretch in the chest wall muscles (hold for three-to-ten seconds until the muscle loosens). Move your hand upward and downward and repeat to stretch the different muscle fibers of the pectorals. Repeat on the other side.

Scapular Abd-/Add-uction

Assume a push-up position (from feet or knees) and rather than bending the elbows (like in a “normal” push-up), keep the elbows locked straight and drop the chest to bring the shoulder blades together and then reverse the motion, raising the chest to spread the shoulder blades out as far as possible. Repeat to fatigue, adding more reps as able. This retracts the shoulders by strengthening the interscapular muscles.

Chin Retraction

From a sitting, standing, or supine position, tuck in the chin while looking straight ahead and then nod the chin down and up. This will strengthen the deep neck flexor muscles that help stabilize the cervical spine. You can add resistance by pushing the chin into your fist while in the up/down directions.

Neck Stretch

With the left hand, reach over the side of the head and pull the right side of the head/neck sideways to the left first while looking upward (pull sideways and back) and then slowly rotate the head left and right feeling for the stretch in the front and side of the neck. Alternative: with the same set-up, drop the head forward (in flexion, pull sideways and forward) while slowly rotating the head left and right feeling for the stretch in the back and side of the neck.

Wall Stance Training

Stand with your back against the wall, or other tall and flat surface. Place your heels against the wall, followed by your upper back, tuck your chin down, then move your head back until it meets the wall. The key part of this exercise is to place your head against the wall without tilting your head up. You should be facing straight ahead. Hold this position for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.

Neck Exercises

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