Neck Exercises and Stretches

Julie Kirk
Woman stretching her neck

There are several reasons why you may need to do neck exercises. The most common reason is to alleviate neck pain and stiffness. Other reasons include increasing flexibility and strengthening the neck muscles.

Neck Exercises to Try

If you are experiencing significant neck pain, you should check with your doctor before performing any of these exercises. You want to make sure you don't have a serious injury that these exercises could further aggravate.

Forward and Backward Head Tilt

This neck exercise helps with relaxation and is also good to do before a workout.

  1. You may sit or stand for this exercise.
  2. Start with your head centered, facing straight ahead, shoulders square.
  3. Slowly tilt your head down until your chin touches your chest.
  4. Hold for a count of five and slowly return to the neutral position.
  5. After a short pause, slowly tilt head back until you're looking up at the ceiling.
  6. Hold for a count of five and slowly return to your starting position.
  7. Repeat the exercise five times. It is important to control the movement and not use momentum.

Side to Side Rotation

If you experience neck spasms, this exercise can help with the pain and stiffness.

  1. Start with your head centered, facing straight ahead, shoulders square.
  2. Turn your head to the right as far as you can, until it becomes uncomfortable.
  3. Hold your position for a count of three and then return to center.
  4. Repeat for the opposite direction.
  5. Hold and return to center, as before.
  6. Do the exercise four more times on each side.

Side Bend

If you have issues with a stiff neck, this exercise could help improve neck flexibility.

  1. Start with your head centered, facing straight ahead, arms at your sides and shoulders square.
  2. Reach over the top of your head with your right hand and place on top/left side of your head.
  3. Gently pull your right ear toward your right shoulder and hold the stretch for a count of three. (Only go as far as the stretch allows. Do not force.)
  4. Repeat this stretch on the left side.
  5. Do this exercise about five times per side.
Woman stretching her neck at gym

Shoulder Squeeze

If you have a knot in the neck area, this exercise will work the upper back muscles to help decrease the tension in your neck. Muscle knots are basically tensed muscle fibers in a constant spasm.

  1. You can sit or stand for this exercise.

  2. Keep upper body tall with your arms down at your sides.

  3. Shoulders should be relaxed. (Do not shrug.)

  4. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.

  5. Hold for a count of five and then relax.

  6. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

Shoulder Squeeze

Resistance Neck Exercises

If you want to strengthen your neck, one of your best bets is to do some resistance exercises. Depending on the part of the neck you're trying to target, there are three different ones you can perform. The key is that you don't actually move your neck, but with the resistance technique, you should feel the muscles working.

Forward

To perform this exercise, start by placing the palms of your hands on your forehead. Then, perform the following steps:

  1. Push forward with your forehead and back with your hands, using equal force.
  2. Continue to push until you've counted to five.
  3. Relax your hands and your neck.
  4. Repeat the exercise four more times.

Side

For this one, put your hand so that its heel sits right above your ear and your fingers point upward.

  1. Push against your head with your hand while trying to touch your ear to your shoulder.
  2. Hold the posture where neither your hand nor neck actually move for a five count.
  3. Relax your hand and neck.
  4. Repeat the exercise on the opposite side.
  5. Do four additional reps on each side of your head.

Note that you should use the hand on the same side of the head as the one you're using to perform the exercise.

Back

Be very gentle with the back of the neck, as it can be easily strained. Put both hands behind your head so that your fingertips meet in the middle, pointing toward each other.

  1. Try to push your head straight backwards, using only your neck muscles.
  2. Push back with your hands at the same time and with the same amount of force.
  3. Count to five.
  4. Relax the pressure.
  5. Complete 10 repetitions.
woman is stretching her neck muscles

Don't Hesitate to Consult Your Doctor

If you have concerns or questions about neck exercises, you should consult your doctor or physical therapist. This article is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. As long as you are in good physical condition, you should be able to complete each set of neck exercises up to three times per day. It can also help if you use a firm pillow to support your neck while sleeping and to use proper posture while driving or sitting at a desk.

Neck Exercises and Stretches