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5 Exercises to Prevent an Aching Neck

One of the things many of us take for granted is a pain-free neck. It's only when we have a stiff or painful neck that we wish we had taken preventive measures. The exercises discussed below are to strengthen and stretch a normal neck. If you have preexisting neck pain or a spine condition, check with your health care provider before doing these exercises.

There are several causes of neck pain, including poor posture and soft tissue abnormalities due to injury or wear and tear. Soft tissues include muscles, ligaments, and tendons. In rare instances, an infection or tumor may cause neck pain. On occasion, neck problems can lead to pain in the shoulders, upper back, and/or arms.

Necks need exercise, too

The muscles in your neck can be exercised and strengthened just like other muscles in your body. Plus, exercise will improve your neck's range of motion. Check with your health care provider before doing neck exercises, however, and stop at once if any movement causes you pain.

Before you begin a neck exercise, it's important to find the proper starting position for your head. This helps prevent exercise-related injuries. Do this by putting your head squarely over your shoulders, then move it straight forward and then back. This back or base position is your starting point. For each of the following exercises, begin with five repetitions and build up to 10.

Rotations. Sitting or standing, turn your head slowly to the left and then to the right as far as you can, comfortably. Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds.

Demonstration of head rotations.

Shoulder circles. While standing, raise your shoulders straight up, then move them in a circle around, down and back up again. Circle in both directions.

Demonstration of shoulder circles.

Side stretches. While standing, stretch your neck slowly to the left trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. Repeat on the right side.

Demonstration of side stretches.

Resistance exercises. Place your right hand against your head above your ear and gently press, resisting the movement with your neck. Do the same with your left hand on the other side.

Demonstration of resistance exercises.

Head lifts. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift and lower your head, keeping your shoulders flat on the floor. Next, lie on one side and lift your head toward the ceiling. Repeat this movement on your other side and while lying on your stomach. Demonstration of head lifts.

Easy preventive measures

Proper neck posture, a simple matter of good body mechanics, can offer you protection from neck pain. Here are suggestions from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and other experts that can help prevent the misuse or overuse of your neck:

  • Don't sit in one place for a long time. If you're stuck at your desk, place items around your office so that you are forced to get up or stretch to retrieve them.

  • Maintain good posture for your neck. Adjust your desk chair so your hips are slightly higher than your knees. Your head and neck will then naturally assume the correct position. When traveling, place a small pillow or rolled up towel between your neck and the headrest.

  • Don't sleep with too many pillows or with a pillow that's too thick.

  • When talking on the phone, don't cradle the phone between head and shoulder. If you're on the phone often, switch to a headset or speakerphone.

  • If you are reading or typing from other materials, raise the pages to eye level.

  • If you have corrected vision, keep your prescription current so you don't have to crane your neck forward to see clearly.