11 Best Neck Pain Exercises
Working professionals are increasingly suffering from spine-related issues. This is mainly due to the incorrect postures they follow while working. They tend to use laptops for long hours without realizing the faulty position of the neck and the backbone.
Over the years, this can result in a serious impact on the spine and lead to chronic pain. The neck is one of the most affected organs due to defects of posture. People of every age are prone to neck pain and especially IT professionals between the age of 25 to 35 tend to get affected most severely. Others like drivers, sportspersons, etc. can also suffer from such conditions. (1) (2)
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Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain can affect the efficiency and productivity of a person. Often, the pain is developed over the years of the wrong posture. The symptoms are ignored by most young people and will consult a doctor only when the condition worsens. (3)(4) (5)
The stiffness and pain in the neck can be caused due to several reasons:
1. Muscle Strain due to Poor Posture
People do not take care in maintaining correct posture during activities. Especially for desk jobs, it is required to spend continuous hours sitting. The backbone is often under severe tension throughout the working hours. (6) (7)
Years of this stress can affect the functioning of neck muscles and the vertebrae.
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2. Improper Exercise Patterns
Unless there is a trainer to guide, people end up with stressed muscles after a workout routine. This happens when the wrong muscles are stretched or tensed during exercises. (8)
The impact can often lead to hospitalization if not attended to at the early stages. A proper warm-up before exercise can reduce the chances of pain post-workout.
3. Sleeping or Other Resting Positions
Improper sleeping position or using the wrong kind of pillows will cause unnecessary stress on the neck muscles causing pain and inflammation of the area. (9)
The neck is very vulnerable during accidents especially falls, sports or car accidents. The patient usually suffers from muscle or ligament tear or in worst cases fractures. (10)
5. Neck pain is also a common symptom of a heart attack. The pain gets gradually distributed to the left arm region(11).
6. Women after menopause are especially prone to suffer from neck pain due to osteoporosis.
7. Disease conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, inflamed meninges, fibromyalgia, spinal stenosis, etc. can also cause stiffness and pain in the neck.
Exercises to Relieve Neck Pain
To cope with the pain and stiffness in the neck region, patients often depend on painkillers. However, physiotherapy can help to minimize suffering.
Many exercises have been found extremely helpful in relieving the tension in the neck muscles. Some of the most common neck pain exercises are described below:
1. Neck Extension
Keep your back straight. Now, move the head backward by looking up. Do not arch your back while moving the head. Hold the position for 5 seconds. Return to the original position. This exercise helps to relieve neck strain and prevent further injuries. (12)
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2. Neck Glide
Keep the neck straight. Now, slowly slide the chin forward till you feel the tension in the neck region. Hold the position for 5 seconds and return to the original position. Repeat 10 times. The exercise will help to strengthen the upper back muscles. (13)
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Here is an amazing video from AskDoctorJo on neck pain stretches and relief
3. Neck Rotations
Rotate the neck to the left side. Try to look over your shoulders. This position has to be maintained for 20 to 30 seconds. Now rotate the neck to the right side and look over the shoulders. Repeat 2 to 4 times. This exercise helps to stretch the neck muscles and keep the tension out.
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4. Deep Stretching
Sit with the back straight and allow your head to fall towards the shoulder and gently put pressure with your hand. Hold the position for 30 seconds and relax. Repeat 3 times. This exercise helps to relieve tension from the neck muscles. (14)
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5. Shoulder Shrugs
Look straight ahead and raise both shoulders slowly as much as possible. Hold this position for 5 seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times. This is an easy way to prevent neck strain when you are working for long hours in front of a computer. (15)
6. Lateral Extension
Look straight ahead by keeping your back aligned properly. Lean the head to the left by keeping your hand for resistance. You should feel a strain in your neck. Hold the position for 5 seconds. (16) (17)
Repeat the same on the right side. Repeat 10 times. The lateral extension is a great way to prevent neck strain during long work hours.
7. Tilted Forward Flexion
Look straight ahead. Lower the chin towards the chest till you feel a strain at the upper back. Hold the position for 5 seconds and return to the original posture. Repeat 10 times. This helps to prevent neck strain while working for long hours. (18) (19)
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8. Towel Pull
Keep a thick towel around your neck. Pull it on both sides. Look upwards as far as possible by moving the neck over the towel. Return to the starting position without holding and repeat 10 times. Help to relieve stress on the upper back. (20)
9. Resistance Pressure
Keep the head in a neutral posture and apply pressure on the forehead with your hands. Try to resist the pressure and hold this position for 5 seconds. Return to normal position and repeat the same by placing your hand behind the neck. Use alternate hands for the same. It helps to strengthen the upper back muscles.
10. Chin Tuck
This is considered to be one of the most useful exercises that helps in improving the strength of neck muscles that helps in pulling the head in alignment with the shoulders. Stand with the spine up against a door with feet out 3 inches from the jamb. Now pull the head back till it touches the door jamb by keeping the chin down.
Do not lookup. Maintain this position for 5 seconds and relax. This has to be repeated 10 times. Chin tuck helps a person to maintain a good posture. It helps in managing the initial pain in the shoulder blades.
11. Prone Cobra
This is another exercise that works on the shoulder girdle, neck, and upper back. It has to be done by lying down on the floor face down. Keep the forehead on a rolled towel for comfort. First, keep the palms on the side face down and then stabilize the neck muscles by placing the tongue on the roof of the mouth. (21) (22) (23)
Pinching the shoulder blades together, lift your arms. Keep your elbows rolled in and palms out with thumbs up. Lift the forehead slightly off the towel (an inch).
Keep the position for about 10 seconds and relax. Repeat 10 times. Prone cobra helps to repair injured muscles and strengthen the neck muscles, especially the upper back.
Do’s and Don’ts for Fast Recovery
There are certain things that a neck pain patient must follow to recover faster
- Perform the exercises mentioned by the physiotherapist or doctor regularly and avoid trying any new exercise without proper consultation.
- Apply heat and cold compressions to get relief from pain and stiffness.
- Use a pillow that is of proper height to support your head.
- Stretch your neck muscles frequently while working continuously. This helps to relieve stress.
- Follow good sleeping and resting postures.
- Use a proper chair for sitting that supports your lower back.
- Take breaks while working in front of a computer and stretch your neck.
Doctors and physiotherapists also advise the patients to avoid certain things while they are on treatment.
- Do not lean on with your chin as this might put pressure on the neck muscles.
- Avoid carrying your bag over one shoulder.
- Try to avoid sleeping on your stomach.
- Make sure you don’t keep the phone between the head and neck while speaking on the phone.
- Do not look down on a mobile phone for long hours.
Home Remedies for Neck Pain
For the initial stage of neck pain, certain remedies can be tried at home for easing the pain or inflammation. Most of these methods have been used by generations and were found to ease the condition a little.
1. Ice therapy
Apply ice on the neck for 20 minutes. Repeat these 4 to 5 times a day. You can alternate between ice and heat for better results.
How it Works
Applying a cold over inflamed part helps by causing the blood vessels to constrict thereby reducing swelling.
2. OTC Painkillers
OTC drugs like paracetamol, ibuprofen
Take the tablet during the onset of pain and then wait for some time for the effect to kick-in.
How it Works
The active pharmaceutical agents help by acting on certain receptors which reduces the pain sensation. Inflammation is also reduced. Do not consume it without a doctor’s prescription.
Sleeping Positions for Neck Pain
It is equally important to take care of the sleeping positions for a healthy neck. Here are some of the best ways to maintain posture while sleeping:
1. On your back
This position helps to distribute your weight evenly throughout the body. The stiffness due to unnecessary curves can be avoided. For better alignment, you can support only the head using a thin pillow. Using a small cylindrical pillow behind the neck can help to keep the head neutral.
2. On your Sides with Stretched Legs
For better positioning, you can place a pillow between the legs. This keeps the spine, hips, and pelvis aligned with each other. Keep a thin pillow only behind the head for support.