Neck exercises are a common part of almost any treatment program for neck pain. A typical neck exercise program will consist of a combination of stretching and strengthening exercises, aerobic conditioning, and possibly trigger point exercises.
This article focuses on neck exercise to relieve neck pain caused by posture problems, and includes instructions for specific neck stretches, neck strengthening exercises, aerobic exercise and trigger point exercises.
Benefits of Neck Exercises
Chronic or recurrent neck pain can be severely debilitating and can also be accompanied by upper back pain, shoulder blade pain, and headaches. These symptoms, along with tight neck muscles and stiff joints, can make even the simplest daily activities painful.
An appropriate neck exercise program can address most of these symptoms as follows:
Flexibility and stretching exercises can expand or preserve the range of motion and elasticity in affected cervical (neck) joints, and thus relieve the stiffness that leads to pain. As a general rule, neck stretching is best done everyday, and some stretches should be done several times a day.
Specific strengthening exercises will help maintain improved posture, which in turn will lessen or eliminate recurrent flare-ups of pain. As a general rule, neck strengthening exercises should be done every other day to allow muscles time to repair themselves.
Aerobic exercises increase blood flow to the muscles and soft tissues of the neck and upper back, which can help loosen the muscles and increase range of motion. In addition, endorphins are also produced after about 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and they can help reduce neck pain.
Aerobic conditioning can be done every day. Good options for aerobic conditioning include using a treadmill, stationary bike, or an elliptical machine, as well as an upper body ergometer or arm bike.
For many, before starting an exercise program it is necessary to first get the pain under control. Gradual joint motion and stretches to increase range of motion in the neck over time will reduce the pain of normal activity.
Neck Exercises for Pain Control
The variety of options available to manage neck pain is extensive, including:
- Apply a heating pad prior to exercise to warm up stiff muscles and joints and make it easier to stretch.
- After exercise, apply a cold pack (or frozen bag of peas wrapped in a towel) to reduce inflammation in the joints and muscles.
- Use over-the-counter medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen), to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.
- Use prescription anti-inflammatories and pain medications (corticosteroids, COX-2 inhibitors), as necessary, to manage severe pain.