Stretches and strengthening neck exercises are both important in neck pain reduction.
This post is for general educational purposes. Always consult your own personal health professional before beginning any new exercise program, especially if you have any reason for concern regarding your spine. Although I am a physical therapist, I am not your physical therapist. Please see the Medical Disclaimer.
In general neck care, alignment (good posture) and controlled movement are both important. Neck stretches allow for the ability to attain good alignment; if your muscles are too tight you may not be able line up correctly. Strengthening exercises will help your muscles to be able to stay in the correct alignment. For that to happen you need both strength and endurance. Performed correctly, stretching and exercise for your neck can help minimize and reduce stiffness and pain.
STRETCHING– Performing stretches with shoulders relaxed. Stretches should be slow (5-10 seconds) and gentle (no forced motion or bouncing). Stretching should not cause significantly increased pain or pain radiating down your arm. I recommend 3 repetitions of each. Try deep breathing throughout to help relax muscles. Simple stretches as turning side to side (like saying “no”, chin toward chest, and bringing your ear toward shoulder are great for improving your neck range of motion.
Tight muscles may put stress on joints contributing to pain, and stretching programs have been found to relieve pain. However, stretching muscles along with strengthening the muscles in your core, may be even more effective for decreasing stress and pain.
STABILIZING– I also perform training of core neck muscles. Perform the exercises slowly, focusing on good alignment and control. I usually begin with 3-5 repetitions and encourage working up to 10 of each, several times per week. This exercise is harder than it looks!
STRENGTHENING– Good shoulder alignment is important for neck strength. Incorporate good posture and shoulder positioning with exercise and daily activities. Practice good body mechanics and maintain tight abdominals while performing your activities throughout the day. These principles and habits will decrease the stress on your neck and upper back, and should lead to decreased pain over time. One key in adjusting your activities, is to limit reaching up overhead or looking up repeatedly to perform activities.
CARDIOVASCULAR EXERCISE– Cardiovascular exercise improves blood flow to increase healing of tissues. As well, it decreases pain by releasing pain reducing chemicals in your brain when you exercise! Walking with good posture is great for your spine. It may be more challenging to incorporate this if you are limited to your home, but you could try walking laps through the house, or up and down the driveway.
Don’t be discouraged if you are not able to exercise at intense levels! Even physical activity that is low to moderate intensity, performed around 2-3 times per week, may still improve someone’s chronic pain symptoms (Ambrose, Golightly, 2016).
General neck and back care recommendations:
Good posture with all activities.
Good alignment of cane or walker.
Good posture and support in sitting.
Good support in bed mattress.
Good support and positioning with pillow and sleep position.
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