Favorite Exercises for a Stiff Neck

1. Cervical Isometrics

Let’s start with an exercise that is about as simple as it gets. If you are in enough pain that don’t feel that you can exercise, this one is for you! The technique is easy, you use your hand for resistance by placing it either on the front, back, or either side of your head. The second, and last step is to simply push into your head with your hand while not letting your head move. The most important concept here is to not let your pain increase from its current level. That might mean that you are putting so little pressure into your head that you barely feel like you are doing anything, but trust me, you are! If you can’t perform this exercise with even the lightest of pressure, it is a good sign that you should seek out some help from you primary care physician or physical therapist (I know a good one if you want a recommendation).

So what good can this simple exercise possibly do? To start the healing process of your muscles, they need to do a little work. Muscles get a large portion of the blood flow from contracting and relaxing which creates a “pumping” mechanism. Good blood flow is important to move the biochemicals, nutrients, and oxygen. Without adequate blood flow, muscle tissue will have a tendency to remain in a state of pain and spasm and create a more acidic environment within the tissue, resulting in even more discomfort.

Neck Pain

 

2. Supine reaching

This is a staple in most of our programs to establish a baseline for posture and alignment in a variety of other movement patterns. This exercise is going to help you develop a good foundation by starting your postural correction at your pelvis while also incorporating reaching to improve shoulder blade control. Control and strength in your shoulder blades matters so much because there are many neck muscles that connect to your shoulder blades, so they have work together.

Technique: Lying on your back with your knees either bent or resting up on a chair or couch. The first part is an exercise all on its own, called a pelvic tilt. Here, you will roll your pelvis “backward” to flatten your low back onto the floor. Then roll your pelvis forward to increase the gap between your low back and the floor. Once you understand this motion well, you should flatten your back out to press it lightly on the floor, but you do not need to push firmly into the floor. Next, reach your arms toward the ceiling. Breathing deeply in and out, try to reach a little further with each exhale. Reach as far as you can until you feel your neck or upper back is going to want to lift off the ground. Make sure that as you get near your end range, you are able to keep your neck muscles relaxed. Progressing this exercise is as easy as adding some weights!

Neck Pain

 

 

3. Wall Slides

This exercise is one of my favorite ways to reverse some of the effects of long periods of sitting. It is going to force you get straighten out your upper back and open up your chest. It is also challenging enough that it will work the postural muscles in your upper back, neck and shoulder blades.

Technique: Stand against a wall and flatten your lower back out enough that you can barely squeeze your hand between the wall and your low back. Next, raise your hands up as if you are signaling for a touchdown! Ideally, you would have your head, elbows, and hands all touching the wall. If you cannot achieve this position at first, start by placing your upper back on the wall and getting your elbows and hands as close as you can comfortably. Next you raise your arms up, sliding them along the wall as high as you can. This will usually be 6 inches to 2 feet at most.

4. Neck flexion

As I discussed in my blog about neck stiffness, one of the most common culprits is weakness. This exercise is designed to target the deep muscles of the front of your neck . These muscles are often weak and in an elongated position from sitting with a forward head. This one is often sneaky difficult when starting, but you can notice rapid improvement within even a few weeks of practice.

Technique: Start lying on your back with your knees bent. Best practice would be to flatten your low back into the floor or your bed, this will put you in an optimal posture for the exercise. Roll up a small towel and place it behind your neck. To initiate the movement, feel like you are trying to pull just your chin down toward your chest, followed by slightly lifting your head while keeping a constant pressure in the towel. Now you are going to continue the movement by continuing to curl your chin toward your chest. It is tempting to just pick your head and neck up as one unit. Try to avoid this and ensure you are performing by slowly curling until you cant bring your chin closer to your chest, this typically happens when your neck just barely lifts off the towel.

5. Band pull-aparts

This is one of my all time favorite exercises for several reasons. You will be reversing the all-too-common curled up posture that our world of sitting has created by really making your postural and shoulder blade muscles work really hard! The second main benefit….it is really tough to mess this one up.

neck

Technique: Standing either against a wall or in the middle of the room, stand in a “tall” posture, basically make yourself feel like you are 1 inch taller than you normally are. Hold the band straight in front of you and start with your grip about shoulder width apart. Then, just pull apart. You should try to really squeeze or pinch your shoulder blades together as you are finishing the movement. As you are coming back to the starting position, allow your shoulder blades to move freely or even reach your hands forward which forces your shoulder blades to now move around your rib cage for added benefit!

Now it is time to try them out! Remember to avoid any exercises that cause pain and try to stay consistent with the exercises you enjoy the most. Let us know what you think and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!