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 you might not have to give up on exercise altogether.
If you've got chronic neck pain, aerobic exercise might even make your condition better. According to an article published in 2014 by the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine, regular aerobic exercise can improve quality of life and reduce functional limitations.
With your doctor's OK, you can stay on track with your fitness goals by choosing low-impact safe exercises with a neck injury. Before you exercise, speak to your doctor or a physical therapist about which exercises are best for your particular injury.
Read more: Exercises to Relieve Neck Muscle Spasms
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 is less likely to cause strain on the neck than many other types of exercise.
As a weight-bearing activity, walking helps strengthen the muscles and bones of your legs and trunk and, if done at a brisk enough pace, improves cardiovascular fitness and aids weight management.
To prevent further strain and injury, maintain proper upright posture while walking, as advised by Kaiser Permanente. Take short walks, several times per day.
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.
If you perform the front crawl, alternate sides when breathing to avoid aggravating your neck injury. Otherwise, one side of the neck can become tight, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Instead, choose the backstroke or back crawl. You can also do water walking, water jogging or take a water aerobics class.
Proceed With Caution
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, as well as the nature of your injury.
It's always best to consult your doctor before undertaking any exercise program while you have an injury, especially a neck injury that may generate serious complications.