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Exercises for Spinal Stenosis in the Neck

author image Christy Callahan
Christy Callahan has been researching and writing in the integrative health care field for over five years, focusing on neuro-endocrinology. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, earned credits toward a licensure in traditional Chinese medicine and is a certified Pilates and sport yoga instructor.
Exercises for Spinal Stenosis in the Neck
Cervical stenosis can cause chronic neck pain. Photo Credit converse677/iStock/Getty Images

If you have spinal stenosis of the neck, or cervical spinal stenosis, you may experience chronic pain. The pain can also limit the range of motion in your neck, which is typically the most mobile part of your spine. Exercise, particularly range of motion and spine strengthening movements, can be an important part of recovery and pain relief. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about your condition before beginning stretches or exercises.


According to Spineuniverse.com, spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, the space created by your vertebrae through which the spinal cord passes. When stenosis occurs, it places pressure on the spinal cord, which is one of your nerve centers. The cervical and lumbar, or lower back, sections of the spine are the most commonly affected by stenosis, although it can occur anywhere along the spinal chord. It can be caused by bulging discs or bone spurs that can be a result of aging, overuse or genetic predisposition. These factors can narrow the spinal canal, resulting in pain.

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Physical Therapy

Rehabilitation for your condition may include massage, chiropractic work, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs and electrical nerve stimulation, according to Spineuniverse.com. These options can help reduce inflammation and potentially relieve pain. Massage and chiropractic work should be aimed toward reducing pressure on the spinal cord and increasing flexibility in the muscles that surround the neck and spine.

Aerobic Exercise

Although jarring, high-impact aerobic exercises should be avoided, gentle walking and even swimming can be beneficial if you have spinal stenosis, states Spineuniverse.com. With the water adding buoyancy, the effects of gravity on your body are lessened. Thus, your spine and muscles do not have to work against gravity. Swimming also strengthens all of the muscles that run along your neck and spine. Depending on your injury, care should be taken to ensure you do not overturn your neck. Talk to your doctor about appropriate swimming strokes for your condition.

Range of Motion

Range of motion, or ROM, exercises are vital for keeping your neck mobile and reducing pain. Be sure to perform exercises gently, never moving to a point of pain. According to Dcdoctor.com, one ROM exercise is simply turning your head. This movement can be performed sitting, standing or lying with your head on a supportive pillow. Begin by gently turning your head to the left and holding for 10 seconds. Slowly bring the head back to center, and turn it to the other side. Repeat a few times, several times per day. You can also gently let gravity pull your head forward, which increases space between your vertebrae. Do not push your muscles; instead, simply allow your head to fall forward naturally.


Increasing your core strength can be beneficial for your spine. Your abdominals, which include upper and lower abs, transverse abdominus and obliques, as well as your lower back muscles make up your core. Maintaining a strong trunk can improve your posture and potentially reduce the risk of injury to your spine. Yoga and Pilates offer a variety of core strengthening exercises, such as the Pilates roll-up and yoga's plank poses. You can also perform standing and seated forward bends, which stretch your muscles and your spine. When you straighten up, engage your core muscles, aligning your back one vertebra at a time.

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