Assuming any serious medical issues (cervical spinal stenosis, cervical disc degeneration) have been ruled out, most patients respond well to neck exercises as a treatment for neck pain and discomfort. This is especially true for neck pain related to poor posture, improper sleeping positions or overworked muscles. Any of the following exercises presented by the Los Angeles spine surgeons at The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration can help with neck pain of this nature.
Neck pain is often aggravated by weakened muscles and joints. The purpose of motion exercises (chin tucks, alternating neck turns, up and down motions of the head) is to help build the strength and flexibility of muscles and joints supporting the neck while increasing natural range of motion.
If neck movements are painful but you still need to strengthen your neck muscles, try isometric exercises. Isometric exercises (resistance movements where you push back as your hands are positioned along the back of the neck, forehead or alternating sides of the head) tend to be more beneficial for non-specific neck pain or muscle stiffness associated with certain movements of the neck.
While not usually thought of as having anything to do with the neck, aerobic conditioning exercises can increase blood flow to the soft tissues that support the cervical spine and neck. Approximately 30-40 minutes of aerobic exercises (stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical machine) can also stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, to help reduce neck pain.
Dynamic Strengthening Exercises
These exercises strengthen the muscles supporting the neck and back and help improve posture, which can be a contributing factor to neck pain. Dynamic strengthening exercises (performed by lifting your head off the floor/mat while on your stomach or back) use the weight of your head and neck to provide natural resistance to increase muscle strength.
While primarily for strengthening neck muscles, these exercises also help with muscle coordination since the entire body is involved. Neck stretches (performed while standing in the corner of a room while leaning into a wall supported by your hands or placing your hand on an adjacent wall above your head) work muscles that may naturally shorten over time from under-use or poor posture.
Levator Scapula Stretches
The levator scapulae muscle, located at the back and side of the neck, can sometimes be tight and tender at the point where these muscles attach to the shoulder blade. Levator scapula stretches (performed either sitting or standing by raising elbows above the shoulders during side stretches while turning the head away from the side that’s being stretched and bringing the chin down) are designed to strengthen this key muscle and reduce neck pain in the process.
Before doing any neck exercises, check with your doctor to make sure the moves involved with the exercises you have in mind are going to be beneficial for your type of neck pain. If any unusual pain is experienced while performing any of the above exercises, seek medical attention immediately.
If you find that exercise or other non-surgical spine treatments aren’t providing adequate relief, it may be time to consider seeing a specialist. The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration has first-rate board-certified physicians who can diagnose the source of your pain and identify the most appropriate treatment options. Call (310) 828-7757 to schedule an in-person consultation.