Neck Extension Exercises for the Vagus Nerve

There are several great neck stretches.
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A pinched vagus nerve in the neck can quite literally give you a pain in the neck. Here are some of the causes of this condition and some exercises you can do to relieve it.


What Is the Vagus Nerve?

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A March 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry notes that the vagus nerve originates in your brainstem, passes through your neck and goes down to your abdomen. It is sometimes referred to as the "wanderer nerve," because of the long path it takes through your body.

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The American Council on Exercise (ACE) explains that this nerve is the captain of your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is part of your autonomic nervous system, which regulates your stomach, intestines and heart. The vagus nerve connects your abdominal organs to your brain, so when you say you have a "gut feeling," this is the nerve you're talking about.


ACE says the vagus nerve is also known as the "feed-and-breed" and "rest-and-digest" nerve, since it stimulates bodily functions like rest, sleep, sexual arousal and digestion. In fact, a November 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology found that the vagus nerve can play an important role in the treatment of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disorders.

Read more: Important Vitamins to Take for Shoulder and Neck Pain


Pinched Vagus Nerve in the Neck

According to the Mayo Clinic, your nerve can get pinched if the surrounding muscles, bones, tendons or cartilage put too much pressure on it, affecting its ability to function. Symptoms of a pinched vagus nerve can include sharp pain that radiates outward, numbness or muscle weakness in that area and tingling or a feeling of pins and needles. Another common symptom of a pinched nerve is the feeling that that part of your body has fallen asleep.


The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons lists wear and tear of the spine due to aging as one of the causes of this condition. Younger people with sudden injuries caused by certain twisting, bending, pulling or lifting movements could also wind up with a pinched vagus nerve and a pain in the neck. The North American Spine Society says posture also plays a role; slouching or letting your head hang forward can cause neck pain or aggravate an existing condition.

Read more: 8 Surprising Ways Your Posture Affects Your Whole Body



Neck Exercises You Can Do

If you have persistent neck pain, you should see a doctor to get it diagnosed and treated. The South Carolina Spine Center lists some exercise you can do to help relieve neck pain and strengthen your neck muscles, but be sure to check with your doctor first to ensure that they are safe for you to do.

Move 1: Neck Extension and Flexion


  1. Stand straight and slowly tilt your head backward (without arching your back), so that you are looking up at the ceiling.
  2. Hold for five seconds.
  3. Tilt your head downward until your chin touches your chest.
  4. Hold for five seconds.

Move 2: Neck Rotation

  1. Slowly turn your head to the right.
  2. Hold for 10 seconds.
  3. Repeat on the left side.
  4. Do 10 repetitions.


Move 3: Lateral Extension

  1. Start by keeping your head straight.
  2. Place your right hand on your right temple.
  3. Slowly tilt your head to the right, pressing against your hand and using your hand to provide resistance.
  4. Hold for five seconds.
  5. Repeat on the left side.
  6. Do 10 repetitions.

Move 4: Shoulder Shrug


  1. Keeping your head straight, slowly raise both your shoulders.
  2. Hold for five seconds.
  3. Do 10 repetitions.

Move 5: Tilted Forward Flexion

  1. Tilt your head to the right.
  2. Slowly drop your head towards your chest.
  3. Hold for five seconds.
  4. Repeat on the left side.
  5. Do 10 repetitions.

Move 6: Deep Stretching


  1. Sit on a chair and keep your back, neck and head straight.
  2. Drop your head towards your right shoulder.
  3. Use your right hand to pull your head down further. You can brace your left hand on the arm of the chair for support.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the left side.
  6. Do three repetitions.

Move 7: Resisted Extension and Flexion

  1. Keep your head in a neutral position throughout.
  2. Place your hand at the back of your head, towards the bottom.
  3. Push your head backward against your hand and use your hand to provide resistance.
  4. Hold for five seconds.
  5. Place your hand on your forehead.
  6. Push your head forward against your hand and use your hand to provide resistance.
  7. Hold for five seconds.

Move 8: Towel Pull

  1. Roll up a towel and place it behind your neck, holding the ends in your hands.
  2. Slowly tilt your head backward so that you're looking up.
  3. As your head rolls against the towel, apply gentle pressure on the towel, using it to support your neck.
  4. Return to the starting position without holding the stretch.
  5. Do 10 repetitions.

Read more: Can Exercises Lengthen the Neck?




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