9 Great Exercises for Neck Pain

By , Dr. Thomas J. Kleeman, MD
Neck pain is one of the most common problems that many of us experience. Studies show that 30% of people experience neck pain, with women affected more often than men. The neck includes seven segments (or vertebrae) with discs acting as shock-absorbers between the segments. The vertebrae are supported by 18 groups of muscles that maintain support and allow function. Why so many muscles? Well, the head weighs about 10 pounds and sits about 10 inches above the shoulders with only the neck to support it. No wonder it gets sore from time to time!

So, how do we keep our neck healthy and strong? The answer is maintaining motion and strength exercises. So let’s look at both. And remember, if you experience pain, stop the exercise and consult your doctor. And don’t feel you have to do all of the exercises. Pick the ones that help the most and don’t cause increased pain.

Motion Exercises
The neck moves in three planes (or directions) including forward, back, side to side, and rotation. You can do these exercises any time or place (except maybe while driving a car). Try to get into a routine that goes through all planes in the same sequence so you don’t miss any.

Exercise 1: Let's start either sitting or standing with the head in neutral position. Look up at the ceiling and then down at the floor in a gentle, slow rhythm. Repeat five times in each direction.

Exercise 2: Next, let’s go side to side, again with five in each direction. Try to touch your ear to your shoulder, but don’t raise the shoulder; keep it relaxed.

Exercise 3: Finally, rotate the neck to one side and then the other, trying to rotate the chin to the line of the shoulder. Repeat five times in each direction. If you feel or hear a little painless cracking, there is no cause for alarm, but talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Isometric Exercises
These exercises allow the muscles to be strengthened without actually moving the neck. Isometrics is an effective strength training technique that can be especially helpful if you are experiencing painful motion of a joint, or in this case, the neck in general. Again, these exercises can be done standing or sitting.

Exercise 1: Place both hands behind your neck, interlocking the fingers with the palms cradling the back of the head. You are now going to do two things simultaneously: pull forward with the hands and extend your neck backward. Hold this position for ten seconds and then relax. The idea is to feel the muscles in the back of the neck contracting without the neck itself moving. The more you pull forward, the more you have to tighten the muscles to keep the neck in a neutral position. The benefit here is that you can create more or less tension quickly and easily. This will help avoid injury while allowing you to progress to higher tension levels as you get stronger.

Exercise 2: Next, place one palm on your forehead as if you were feeling for a temperature. Place the other hand over the first one and try to tilt the head forward, holding a neutral position by pushing back with the hands. Hold for ten seconds and relax.

Exercise 3: Next, work each side of the neck by placing a hand against the side of the head, using the opposite hand to support the wrist of the pushing hand. Try to tilt the head toward the shoulder while keeping a neutral position by pushing back with the hand. Hold for 10 seconds, relax, and do the other side.

Exercise 4: Finally, let’s perform isometric rotation strengthening by placing one hand against the chin with the palm cupping the front of the chin. Again, use the opposite hand to support the wrist of the pushing hand. Try to rotate the head while pushing back with the hand. After 10 seconds, relax and do the opposite side.
Dynamic Strengthening Exercises
The last set of exercises uses that 10 pound weight sitting above your shoulders to allow motion and strengthening at the same time. This time, we are going to do flexion, extension and lateral bending, but not rotation.

Exercise 1: Start by lying on the floor or mat on your belly. Rest your head on a small pillow, or use your hands to cushion your head in the neutral position. Then, raise the head off the floor and hold the extended position for up to 30 seconds if you can. Relax back down.

Exercise 2: Roll over on your back and flex the neck, holding the head off the floor for 30 seconds. Then, relax again. Then, roll to one side, supporting the head in a neutral position with downside arm and hand in a flexed position. Tilt the head away from the hand and hold for 30 seconds. Relax back down and switch to the opposite side.

There you have it! In less than five minutes, you can use this easy routine to keep your neck healthy and avoid that nagging pain in the neck. Try doing it every day to get the best results. Use it to complement your regular full-body workout routine, especially if you are prone to neck pain. You will be amazed at how well it works!

About the Author
Dr. Thomas J. Kleeman, MD, is nationally-renowned orthopedic surgeon and founder of the New Hampshire Neurospine Institute. With the help of his wife Anne, he has become dedicated to the use of exercise and good nutrition as a means of maintaining quality of life during the aging process.  Now 66, he is a cancer survivor who found the benefits of exercise and nutrition instrumental in his own recovery.  Along with his wife Anne, a registered nurse and certified fitness professional, he has launched MDfitness: The Doctor's Workout on DVD—an easy to follow exercise program designed for people over 40, along with EatandBeFit, a nutrition and fitness blog.

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MUSICNUT 2/10/2019
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
SPINSTER321 11/4/2018
Perfect timing - had bad neck pain last night. Thanks for this. Report
MELLIE1030 9/30/2018
I use some of these, and I will try the others. Report
AMBER461 9/28/2018
Thanks for sharing. Report
HARRIETT14 9/26/2018
Thank you so much. I have done the neck exercises that you have posted and my neck feel great. I'm not able to to the arm exercise as of yet but I will keep on trying. Report
HARRIETT14 9/26/2018
Thank you so much. I have done the neck exercises that you have posted and my neck feel great. I'm not able to to the arm exercise as of yet but I will keep on trying. Report
SHOAPIE 9/26/2018
I need these. Report
Thank you Report
MBPP50 9/25/2018
Thank you Report
MSROZZIE 9/24/2018
Excellent article with good demonstrations. Report
SPINECCO 9/24/2018
Thanks. Report
Thanks for sharing the amazing information. These exercises can really help to get rid of neck pain but If exercises can't help than there are many option which can help you. According to my personal experience chiropractic adjustments is the best way and can help you to get relieve from your pain safely. Here is the chiropractor which had treated my neck pain - www.lightchiropractic.com Report
EO4WELLNESS 7/19/2018
nice Report
MIYAMO 7/6/2018
Great information! Report
I really needed to read this today. Report
According to the information you have shared, it’s good to work on your neck with gentle exercise, it really helps in neck pain reduction. I have also started gentle exercises as per the recommendations of Physician Partners of America doctors. My condition is much better now and improving day by day. I would recommend gentle exercise to everyone who are suffering from neck pain. Report
thank you Report
Some of these exercises are used to deal with vertigo. Report
Thanks for the tips! Report
I have tried neck exercises to relieve migraines. Report
These are similar to my PT exercises following my C-spine surgery. Report
Thanks! Report
I have a bad neck and I learned a couple of things I didn't know Report
Well, that certainly loosens things up. Report
Oh, wow, these are good! Thanks a lot. Report
I needed this info, I have had neck pain the last couple of days. I'm going to try these exercises today. I hope this helps. Report
Thanks for the information! Report
Thank you sa I needed these Report
Thanks for the tip Report
I like how simple these are. Report
These are so good. Now, I just need this to pop up on my computer each morning to remind me to do it! Report
Keep moving Report
I'm definitely going to try these. Report
Very good selection of exercises. Report
We take so much for granted and need to work on those not so obvious places. Good info! Report
I have read that targeted exercises and stretches in the neck will help increase blood circulation, strengthen the muscles and reduce recovery time. Report
Wow!! These exercises are just what I've been needing! I've added them to my routine! Report
I am a retired Skydiver, we did these exercises every day before starting our jumps. Today I have arthritis in my neck and continue to do these exercises daily. The thing I do differently is I do them in my morning hot shower. The heat loosens my neck and makes it easier to do exercise. While I'm in there I also do squats, lunges, shoulder circles and I have some resistance bands tied to a shower brace handle and do some arm movements. All ir costs is a little extra electricity for the hot water heater, cheaper than going to the gym. Do use a rubber mat in the shower to prevent slips. Report
Loved your blog. I have had some neck pain lately because I had to move furniture in a hurry in a basement flood from the water heater. It was crazy and I hope no permanent damage has been done. Report
I think the author missed to tell about the pillow. Report
Wow - lots of crackling and dizziness - I have a very sore neck and arm.

Going to remember to do these daily. Report
I'm really happy to have this simple sequence to use on a daily basis - it's on my Bookmarks Toolbar so I can quickly find it. I'd like to get more exercises by this author - will check out the DVD. Great! thanks Report
I don't know if it's just me, but I found the written instructions vs pictures hard to follow and understand. Like some of the pictures didn't look anything like what was written about them, so I don't know how to perform the exercise. Report
Great article. Don't know how i missed it before! Report
Great article. Perfect timing. I've had a stiff neck for the past few days and these exercises sure helped with the stiffness. Thanks so much!! Report
This article is timely. Thank you. Report
Fifty years ago, I began isometric exercises, like pushing against each side of a door frame, palms-up push against a tree branch, digging holes in sand with my feet. Somehow over the years I got away from them. Thanks for the reminder! Report
Exercise is a great way for relief from a pain. but chiropractor is the best technique to get relief from pain in very less time... Balanced Health Chiropractic Report
This is AMAZING...thank you :) Report