5 Simple Exercises to Relieve Neck Pain

Updated: Dec 27, 2020



Neck pain can be debilitating and prevent you from doing the things you love with the people you love.


It can also be scary when it stays around for more than a few days. Its hard to have pain and not know why or what to do.


In this article, I’m going to show you 5 simple exercises to relieve neck pain on your own. Although, it’s always best to see a physical therapist when you have neck pain, especially if it is not going away, these exercises will help you get started so that you can start getting relief right away.

Is My Neck Damaged?

A common misconception about pain is that Pain = Harm. The fact is that the opposite is usually the case.


Pain is more like a signal. We can compare it to a “Check Engine” light. The light tells us that something is off but it doesn’t actually tell us exactly what it is or where it is coming from.


This is even more the case when we have shoulder or arm pain. A lot of times it can be coming from the neck, even if we don’t feel pain in the neck!


Here is a great 5 minute video that summarizes what pain REALLY is about:

Understanding Pain

Therefore, I usually test to see if the neck is the source of the pain for many of my patients in the clinic.

Fact: Rarely, neck pain is a sign of a serious problem that can lead to actual damage and loss of function. Please see a medical professional if neck pain is accompanied by loss of strength and/or numbness down the arm and into the hand.

My Story

My neck started hurting even before I began physical therapy (PT) school.

I was an undergraduate studying Exercise Physiology (EP). Every day I would sit in the library looking down at my textbook, drinking coffee, and studying for hours at a time. I always have like to be prepared, especially since my service in the Marines. Therefore, I would read the chapters we would cover before class so that I would already have the material fresh in my head.

Then the neck pain started in the center of the back of my neck. I was very worried because it started to get worse the more I studied. Then it spread into my shoulders. I was thinking, “What am I supposed to do? I can’t stop studying!”

Then I did something that was very helpful. I bought a book stand. I put my textbooks in the bookstands and was able to study with very little pain. Although it didn’t clear up my neck pain, it allowed me to study without making things worse. I was relieved.

However, it wasn’t until I learned the exercises that I am going to tell you about that my pain went away.


Prevalence

Neck pain is the fourth leading cause of disability in the U.S.

More than 30% of people in this country experience neck pain each year!

Many cases of neck pain resolve without treatment but about 50% of people continue to experience some degree of pain or recurrence of symptoms.

This ARTICLE from the Mayo Clinic describes some of the more scientific research related to neck pain.

This ARTICLE from Healthline gives some more general info for the public.

Basically, neck pain usually comes from either the muscles, the ligaments, or the joint.

Although trauma can be an obvious reason why neck pain began, often times

It comes on without warning or from no specific event. Most people I see tell me it came on gradually and got worse over time.

I’m going to show you the exercises that have helped at least 80% of the people I have seen for neck pain in the clinic, especially for those with pain that came on with no specific event.


Exercises

You can watch the video version of these exercises on my YouTube Channel by clicking HERE.

I will be referring to the neck as the “cervical spine” to describe the following exercises. Start with #1. If this one has a good response, you don’t need to go on to the next one unless your symptoms plateau. Then go down the line until you get a good response.


1) Cervical Retractions

a. Sit in a chair with your back supported.

b. Begin to draw the head backwards as if you were making a double chin (retract).

c. Hold for a second, release, and return to the starting position.

d. Repeat for 10 repetitions.

e. Notice how you feel.

2) Cervical Retractions with Overpressure

a. Sit in a chair with your back supported.

b. Begin to draw the head backwards as if you were making a double chin.

c. Use one of your hands to push the chin so that your head goes back even further. You should feel a little more of a stretch.

d. Hold for a second, release, and return to the starting position.

e. Repeat for 10 repetitions.