Stabilization Exercises for the Cervical Spine

suffering from a painful neck and overwork
Woman holding the back of her neck (Image: STUDIO GRAND OUEST/iStock/Getty Images)

The cervical spine is the top portion of the spine in the back of the neck. Muscles of the neck, including the suboccipital, longus capitis, colli, multifidi, semispinalis cervicis and longissimus cervicis, stabilize the neck. The upper back and shoulder muscles, including the lower trapezius and the serratus anterior, are also important for spinal stabilization. Simple exercises increase the strength in these muscles for improved stabilization.

Chin Tuck

The chin tuck exercise strengthens the muscles that hold your neck in correct alignment. Many people jut their heads forward to see a computer screen or as a result of poor posture. This is known as forward head syndrome. The chin tuck corrects misalignment of the cervical spine. To perform the chin tuck exercise, position your head with your chin parallel to the floor. Retract your head backward without changing the angle of your head.

Cervical Extension

The cervical extension exercise strengthens your neck through extending the cervical spine. This action lifts the chin up. To do the cervical extension exercise, interlace your fingers behind your neck with your elbows bent as you look straight forward. Pull the elbows toward each other so they face forward. Then, tilt your chin up to look above you. Your hands prevent a full extension of your neck, which is not necessary.

Chin Tuck With Towel

The chin tuck with towel exercise works differently than the chin tuck. This exercise strengthens your neck through flexion and is the opposite movement as the cervical extension exercise. To perform the chin tuck with towel, lie on your back with a rolled-up towel under your neck. Your chin naturally points upward slightly when your neck relaxes onto the towel. Then, tilt your chin toward your chest. Your head remains in contact with the bed or floor.

Side-Bending Isometric Exercise

The side-bending isometric exercise strengthens the sides of your neck with an isometric contraction. Your head does not move during this exercise. Place a bouncy ball or rolled up towel against a wall and place one side of your head against the object. Press into the ball or towel with your neck straight. Repeat on the other side.

Cervical Brace in the Quadruped Position With Arm Raises

The cervical brace in the quadruped position with arm raises challenges the neck and shoulder blades' ability to stabilize while balancing with only three points of contact on the floor in a kneeling position. To perform this exercise, crouch onto all fours with your neck and back parallel to the floor. Raise one arm forward so that it is straight in front of you and parallel to your neck. A mirror can provide feedback as to the alignment of your neck. Your neck must stay straight with your shoulder blades retracted throughout the exercise. Alternate arms.

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