The following exercises will help strengthen the muscles in your neck as well as relieve existingneck pain. You don't need to do every exercise. Do the ones that help you the most. Other things to remember:
- Stop any exercise that increases pain.
- Do each exercise slowly.
- Talk to your doctor before doing any of these exercises
How to Do the Exercises
Neck stretch to the side
- This stretch works best if you keep your shoulder down as you lean away from it. To help you remember to do this, start by relaxing your shoulders and lightly holding on to your thighs or your chair.
- Tilt your head toward your shoulder and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
- If you would like a little added stretch, use your hand to gently and steadily pull your head toward your shoulder. For example, keeping your right shoulder down, lean your head to the left. Let the weight of your head stretch your muscles, or use your left hand to pull gently down on your head.
- Repeat 2 to 4 times toward each shoulder.
Neck stretch to the diagonal
- Sit in a firm chair, or stand up straight. Look straight ahead. If you're standing, keep your feet about hip-width apart.
- Turn your head slightly toward the direction you will be stretching. Tip your head diagonally, bringing your chin toward your chest. Relax and let the weight of your head stretch your muscles. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
- If you would like a little added stretch, use your hand to gently and steadily pull your head forward on the diagonal. For example, to stretch toward the left, use your left hand.
- Repeat 2 to 4 times.
- It's a good idea to repeat these steps toward the other side.
Dorsal glide stretch
- Sit up straight in a firm chair, or stand up straight. If you're standing, keep your feet about hip-width apart.
- Keep your neck straight, and look straight ahead.
- Slowly tuck your chin as you glide your head backward over your body.
- Hold for a count of 6, and then relax for up to 10 seconds.
- Repeat 2 to 4 times.
Chest and shoulder stretch
- Sit or stand tall. You can also stand against a wall. Glide your head backward over your body (dorsal glide).
- Raise both arms with your palms facing forward and your elbows out to the sides.
- Bend your elbows and slowly lower your arms while squeezing your shoulder blades down and back. Keep your elbows back and your hands up throughout the exercise. If you're using a wall, keep your arms and hands against the wall. You will feel your shoulder blades slide down and together. At the same time, you will feel a stretch across your chest and the front of your shoulders.
- Hold for about 6 seconds. Then relax for up to 10 seconds.
- Repeat 8 to 12 times.
Isometric Exercise: Hands on Head
In an isometric exercise, a force is applied against a resistant object, so that even though tension builds in a specific muscle, there is no movement. You can do isometric exercises to strengthen the muscles of your neck. For each exercise, keep your neck straight and look straight ahead.
- To exercise muscles at the right side of the neck, put your right hand against the right side or your head above your ear. As you press against the side of your head with your hand, also press your head back against your hand. You should feel the muscles at the side of your neck tighten, but your head should not move to either side. Press firmly, but not quite as hard as you can. Hold for about 6 seconds, rest for up to 10 seconds, then repeat.
- To exercise muscles at the left side of the neck, do the same steps as in the exercise above, but press your left hand against the left side of your head.
- To exercise muscles at the back of the neck and upper back, lace your fingers or put one hand over the other and place your hands at the back of your head. Press your hands against your head at the same time you press your head straight back against your hands. Press firmly, but not quite as hard as you can. Do not tip your head back. Hold for about 6 seconds, rest for up to 10 seconds, then repeat.
- To exercise muscles at the front of the neck, put the heels of both hands against your forehead just above your eyebrows. Press your hands against your forehead at the same time you press your head against your hands. Press firmly, but not quite as hard as you can. Do not tip your head forward. Hold for about 6 seconds, rest for up to 10 seconds, then repeat.
- Repeat each exercise 8 to 12 times.
- Talk with your doctor or physical therapist if you have questions about how to do these or any other exercises.
Current as of: July 18, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.