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5 Physical Therapy Exercises for Neck Pain

By Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.

Founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab

Neck pain is an issue that can affects many. While its causes will vary, it can result in debilitating pain and symptoms that can make it hard to move. Medications can sometimes help with the pain, but they don’t always fix the problem. Because of this, it might be ideal to consider using physical therapy exercises to treat it. Below you’ll find five helpful exercises you can use to heal neck pain. 

What Causes Neck Pain?

Neck pain can be caused by a handful of things. This includes:

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  • Sports injuries
  • Incorrect posture or sleeping position
  • Arthritis
  • Whiplash
  • Herniated disc

Symptoms of Neck Pain


This uncomfortable problem brings a variety of different symptoms besides just pain. 

  • Stiffness
  • Cracking joints
  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Limited flexibility

Why It’s Important to Exercise Your Neck

Moving your neck helps to increase blood flow to it. This encourages your body to release endorphins that work as natural painkillers.

Exercising your neck also stops muscle spasms by reducing tension in surrounding nerves and joints. This can help to prevent stress on your neck which will otherwise lead to neck pain. 

In addition to this, moving your neck helps to keep your sternocleidomastoid muscle in good condition. This muscle is one of the largest cervical muscles in the body and helps you to turn your head. If you put excessive strain on it, you’ll find you’ll have trouble moving your head and might even damage nerves which could trigger headaches. 

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5 Physical Therapy Exercises to Help with Neck Pain


Try Shoulder and Neck Rolls

Your shoulder and neck are connected to each other through a series of muscles. This includes the fascia which is a connective tissue that forms thin muscle sheets around your neck and shoulders. If these muscles are torn or abnormally stretched, it can result in severe pain. Because of this, shoulder and neck rolls can be very helpful. 

To do a shoulder and neck roll simply stand straight with your arms relaxed at your sides. Then, lift up your head and start gently rolling your shoulders. You’ll want to repeat this motion at least five times forward and backward. 

Once you do this, lift your head back down. Tilt it to the left and roll your shoulders forward and backward a few times and then tilt it to the right while repeating this process. 

This exercise can be very helpful but make sure to not overdo it. If you do these rolls too much, it could end up making your pain worse. 


Do Aerobic Exercises in a Pool


Many Sports and Physical Therapists have seen how aquatic therapy helps to treat pain in your neck, back, and shoulders. The buoyancy of the water makes it feel as if you’re floating which can lift pressure off of your body. This can make it easier for you to move around while receiving the same health benefits if you did them out of the water, such as increasing blood flow. 

One easy exercise to do is arm circles. After entering the pool walk around in the water until you find a deep area that goes up to your shoulders. Once you do, lift your arms up so they align with your shoulders. Then, start rolling your arms forward about 10 times. You can then switch the direction and repeat this motion another 10 times. 

You could also try moving your body in a clockwise direction. While keeping your right foot in a lunge position, move your neck side to side. Then, put your arms straight forward and turn your neck side to side again. While keeping one arm straight move the other one to a three-o-clock position and turn your neck side to side again. Keep your one arm straight and then move the other one to a six-o-clock position and turn your neck to both sides once more. After doing this process, switch to your other side. 

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Do Wall Push-Ups

Many people avoid doing push-ups because it might cause pain in their neck. However, this pain is a result of incorrect posture when doing so. When done right, push-ups help to strengthen your deltoids (shoulder muscle) and serratus anterior, both of which connect to your neck. By moving them, you’ll release tension in and around it. 

To do wall push-ups, stand about two feet away from a wall. Then, put your arms straight ahead of you and lean forward so that the palms of your hands are flat against it. Once they are, bend your elbows so your body starts to move toward the wall. You’ll want to try to get at least one-inch away from it. Then, carefully push your body back to the starting position. Repeat this routine a few times and then take a break. 

Doorway Stretches

This type of stretching will help to reduce tension in your shoulders and neck. To do a doorway stretch, stand in the middle of a doorway. Put your arms out to the side and then bend them so your hands are pressing against the doorframe. After securing your hands to it, move one leg forward. You’ll start to feel muscles in your neck and stomach being stretched. Hold this position for about 15 seconds and then switch to the other leg. For best results, you’ll want to do this process at least six times per day. This can be three times in the morning and then three times in the evening. 

Lateral Extensions

Lateral extension stretches are useful for releasing tight muscles in your neck. To do this exercise, stand straight and then slightly lean your head to the right. As you do so, use your right hand to put pressure on it. This motion will work to exercise muscles in this region. Hold the position for about 20 seconds and then repeat with your left side. You’ll want to continue this exercise about 20 times each day. 

Neck pain can drastically affect your life. By using these exercises, you’ll not only increase your neck’s range of motion, but eliminate pain. 

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Written By:

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998 and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.

Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. Currently, he works at AssignmentBro in the US as a writer and editor.