The Only 5 Pilates Moves You Need to Ease Neck Pain

A quick, five-move Pilates routine can help alleviate stress in your neck.
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If your job requires you to sit in front of a computer screen all day, you're at a greater risk of dealing with aches and pains in your neck. In fact, up to 69 percent of office workers report experiencing neck pain, according to a May-June 2022 paper in ‌Pain Reports‌.


"Bad posture, misplaced stress and breathing techniques that are not mindful can all result in severe neck pain," says Alexis Sweeney, certified Pilates instructor at Equinox clubs in NYC and creator of the Silhouette by Alexis app and virtual platform.

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Hunching over your laptop all day can strain your neck muscles, contributing to poor posture, neck pain and tightness, per the Mayo Clinic.

Along with being mindful of your posture, taking a mid-day break to do a few Pilates moves can help you find relief and even prevent neck pain down the line. In fact, Pilates is a great practice to help alleviate tension and stress throughout your body — your neck included.

Below, Sweeney shares her go-to five-move routine for neck pain relief.

"A simple but consistent practice of these five exercises below can not only alleviate the stress but also train you to carry yourself longer, taller and more confidently in your body," Sweeney says.



Sweeney recommends performing each exercise at least eight times each and doing them four to five times a week to feel a significant change. "It takes repetition to build your muscle memory, as this truly is a lifestyle change," Sweeney says.

1. Diaphragmatic Breath

This exercise is great for not only calming your nervous system and ridding your body of stress and anxiety as you drop the breath out of your chest, but it also trains your core to be engaged in everything that you do, Sweeney says.

"Training yourself how to drop your breath out of your chest and into your low diaphragm is the start of correcting your posture, lengthening your spine and dissolving stress and tension throughout your body — including in your neck," she says.


Activity Pilates
  1. Lie on your back with your arms resting by your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the ground hip-width apart.
  2. Relax your arms alongside your body.
  3. As you inhale, breathe into your low diaphragm, feeling your navel rise and your lower back press into the mat.
  4. As you exhale, knit your ribs together and press your navel into your spine.


You can also do this move sitting down. Here's how:

  1. Sit on a mat with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
  2. Place your palms down next to you on the mat.
  3. Sit long and tall. Inhale into your lower belly.
  4. Exhale and pull your fingertips forward. Think of sitting taller, and press your navel into your spine.

2. Double Leg Stretch

"Developing a strong core is one of the best ways to alleviate any stress or tension in your head, neck, shoulders and spine," Sweeney says.

Along with diaphragmatic breathing (above), keeping your core engaged in everything you do will help fix bad posture and build bodily awareness and proper alignment.



"This is no quick fix, as it takes time and consistency in your practice," Sweeney says.

Activity Pilates
  1. Lie on the ground with your legs out straight, arms at your sides.
  2. Brace your core and root your lower back into the ground.
  3. Raise your legs straight up toward the ceiling.
  4. Inhale as you lower your legs a few inches. Breathe into your low diaphragm, feeling your navel rise and your lower back press into the mat.
  5. Exhale as you lift your heels above your hips, pressing your ribs heavy into your mat and your navel into your spine.

3. Rolling Like a Ball

Think of this exercise as a self-massage to your neck, shoulders and spine as well as a tool to help you gain core stability. This move helps activate deeper fibers in your core to help you balance, Sweeney says.


"Whenever I, personally, [experience] from pain from my scoliosis, it always feels good to massage my vertebrae into the mat and dissolve any stress," Sweeney says. "Maintaining the C-curve in your spine is also a great way to create space between each vertebra — the neck included — while training yourself to maintain the low diaphragmatic breath and deep core connection."

Activity Pilates
  1. Sit on your mat with your knees bent to 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Grab your shins to bring your knees toward your belly and squeeze your heels together.
  3. Bring your gaze to your heels to create a C-curve in your spine.
  4. Inhale as you rock back and exhale as you squeeze your heels together.
  5. Rock back to a seated position without letting your heels touch the mat while hugging your navel into your spine.

4. Saw

Not only does this move marry together the skillset of diaphragm breathing and engaging your core while creating space and length in your neck and spine, but it also adds a slight twist to rinse out your thoracic spine, Sweeney says.


Plus, "twisting while training deep engagement in your core while stretching your hamstrings to dissolve tightness throughout your posterior chain [the backside of your body] can immensely alleviate stress around your neck," Sweeney says.

Activity Pilates
  1. Sit up straight with your legs extended and slightly wider than your shoulders.
  2. Bring your hands to prayer position in front of your chest.
  3. Contract your abdominal muscles and turn your torso to the left. Keep your hips in place.
  4. Bend your torso and reach your right hand toward your left foot. Simultaneously straighten your left arm behind you.
  5. Lift your torso back up and return your hands to prayer position.
  6. Contract your abdominal muscles and turn your torso to the right. Keep your hips in place.
  7. Bend your torso and reach your left hand toward your right foot. Simultaneously straighten your right arm behind you.
  8. Lift your torso back up and return your hands to prayer position.

5. Swan

In this move, avoid tension in your neck by pulling the chin forward.


"You'll build awareness in your posture, your core and your breath control to create a sense of consistent length in your body to alleviate any and all stress in your neck and your spine," Sweeney says.


Activity Pilates
  1. Lie face-down with your legs extended behind you, feet hip-width apart. Press the tops of your feet down.
  2. Place your hands outside your shoulders, palms facing down.
  3. Exhale to engage your abdominal muscles and lift your chest. Anchor your hips, pubic bone and the tops of your feet into the ground to support the lift.
  4. Lift and lengthen through the back of your neck and keep your gaze down and out. Keep your neck neutral.
  5. Return to starting position.