The 4 Best Exercises for Neck Pain Relief

black woman in a pink sweater rubbing her neck before doing exercises for neck pain
During each of these exercises for neck pain, focus on moving slowly through a controlled and comfortable range of motion.
Image Credit: AaronAmat/iStock/GettyImages

Starting your day off with a painful, achy neck can really put a damper on things. Think: Looking up to see a coffee menu board or checking your blind spot on the drive to work. Fortunately, you can help ease some of that pain with a few simple neck pain exercises.

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"Our heads are meant to move in many different directions, and there are a lot of muscles and joints that must work properly to make this happen," Jereme Schumacher, DPT, a California-based physical therapist, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

By activating and increasing blood flow to all of these tiny structures, exercises for neck pain help bring immediate pain relief. And, if you do them regularly, you just might find that yourself not waking up with neck pain quite so frequently.

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"Consistent neck mobility exercises allow for proper use of those muscles, which can then lead to decrease risk for pain and injury," he says.

So the next time your neck is feeling a little stiff and achy, give these four exercises for neck pain a try.

Warning

If your neck pain is the result of an injury, be sure you talk to your doctor first before doing any physical activity or exercises for neck pain. If any of these movements worsen the pain, stop and seek medical attention.

Move 1: Head Lift

Skill Level All Levels
Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Lie on your back and look up at the ceiling.
  2. Begin by nodding your head slightly as though you're giving yourself a double chin.
  3. Maintaining the chin tuck, lift your head off the surface slightly. Raise it only an inch or two off the ground and don't allow your shoulders to shrug toward your ears as you do.
  4. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, then relax.

The head lift exercise is a good technique for targeting your deep cervical flexors. These are small muscles that run along the front and side of your cervical vertebrae (neck) region to support and stabilize the spine.

Move 2: Prone Extension

Skill Level All Levels
Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Lie on your stomach with your arms at your side, palms facing down and a small rolled towel under your forehead.
  2. Bring your shoulder blades down and back as though you were moving them toward the back pocket of your pants.
  3. Maintain this set position and slowly raise both arms up and back down again. Your shoulders should not move up toward your ears as you do this.

β€œThe prone extension exercise is a nice way to activate the shoulder blade muscles that help improve your posture and take some strain off your neck muscles,” says Eileen Compty, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy and licensed athletic trainer.

Move 3: Cervical Retraction

Skill Level All Levels
Sets 4
Reps 10
  1. Sit on a chair with your back supported.
  2. Keeping your eyes level with the horizon, put two fingers against your chin and press gently as you move your neck back. Again, the movement should cause you to get a double chin.
  3. Hold the retracted position for one to two seconds before releasing. Make sure not to look up or to shrug your shoulders toward your ears as you do this.

Move 4: Sideways Neck Stretch to Lift

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level All Levels
Sets 2
Reps 2
  1. Sit in a chair and hold onto the bottom of the seat with your left hand to keep your right shoulder from shrugging up.
  2. Lean your right ear toward your right shoulder until you feel a light stretch in between your head and shoulder on the left side.
  3. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Engage your neck muscles to slowly raise your head back to start.

Tip

This exercise for neck pain stretches one side of your neck, then recruits the other side to lift your head back to start. Move slowly and with intention to work the intended muscles.

​Additional reporting by Bojana Galic.​

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