A neck injury is, well, a pain in the neck. It can disrupt your sleep, make everyday activities difficult and limit your ability to exercise. But don't give up on exercise all together. Stay on track with your fitness goals by choosing low-impact cardio activities that don't further irritate your neck. Before you exercise, speak to your doctor or a physical therapist about which exercises are best for your particular injury.
Walking is a great place to start when exercising with a neck injury, especially if you've previously been inactive. Walking is low-impact and isn't likely to cause any strain on the neck. As a weight-bearing activity, walking helps strengthen your muscles and bones and, if done at a brisk enough pace, improves cardiovascular fitness and aids weight management. To prevent further strain and injury, keep your posture in mind while walking so your back and neck make a straight line.
Depending on the severity of your neck injury, you may be able to pick up your pace to a jog. Get your doctor's OK before doing so, however. If you're going to jog, a treadmill is a better choice than outdoors. A treadmill provides a steady, stable surface with less risk of tripping and falling than jogging on the street or a trail. Be sure to maintain good posture with your torso erect, your shoulders back and your head centered over your shoulders and hips.
Cycling is another low-impact, weight-bearing activity that may be suitable for neck injuries as long as you take certain precautions. Riding a stationary bike or taking a spinning class is a better idea than riding outside. Stationary bikes provide more support and stability and there's no risk of hitting bumpy terrain or crashing. Adjust the handlebars so you don't need to reach forward to grasp them, which can put strain on the neck.
Swimming is one of the lowest impact exercises you can engage in since the water supports your body weight, making this is an easier exercise on your joints, bones and muscles. Some strokes are better than others, however. The Santa Cruz Acupuncture Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Clinic recommends avoiding the freestyle stroke, because repetitively turning your head from side to side can aggravate neck pain. The breaststroke, side stroke and forward crawl may also irritate the neck according to the clinic website. Instead, choose the backstroke or back crawl. You can also do water walking, water jogging or take a water aerobics class.
Finding the right aerobic exercise that doesn't disturb your neck injury is largely trial and error. Good choices are those that are steady and stable. Most gym machines, including the treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical and stair climber, provide lower body-focused workouts that aren't likely to exacerbate a neck injury, as long as they are performed in a controlled manner.
Some low-impact group aerobics classes may also be suitable, but that is highly dependent on the style of class, the moves included and the intensity. It's always best to consult your doctor before taking an aerobics class.