Stiff Neck Exercises for Neck Pain

Exercises for stiff neck

STIFF NECK EXERCISES FOR NECK PAIN is a simple routine to do on a daily basis whether you have head neck pain or arm pain or not. Since 70% of the general population will have neck pain in any one year, and for 12% it will be disabling, a bit of prevention makes sense.

We recommend you take these exercises one at a time, do it for a few days, and when you're happy, go on to the next one.


There is no exercise program that fits with everyone. Listen to your body, take it slowly. If it doesn't feel good, leave it out, and move on to the next one. If you're not sure if you are doing it right, get someone to watch you do them.

Obviously first prize is to get a professional check that you are doing them correctly.

1. Neanderthal Man

Fix the eyes on a point on the wall directly in front of the eyes, and move the head forwards and backwards (retraction), slowly and rhythmically, careful to keep the chin on the same plane. Avoid flexion / extension - looking up and down.

A slight chin tuck on retraction is important.

Not to be done in public! Do this exercise in the car, and in the loo.

In general it's good practice to stretch tired and sore muscles. However, my experience, with the neck muscles, stretching them often increases the pain.

If there's any concomitant injury to the disc or facet joint complex, stretching the neck muscles may subluxate the weak joints. 

So I have no neck muscle stretches on this page. There is a place for them, but I'd rather you were taught them by your health professional, who must also decide: do you have a purely muscle condition in the neck, or is there is also an underlying joint condition. In which case, in my book, stretches are contraindicated. Others have a different opinion.

2. Neck Muscle Exercises

Cat and Camel

The Cat and Camel exercises for a stiff neck are more difficult, and probably should not be taught on a website. If you're not getting it, get help. It's an old yoga exercise.

In essence, it's the Neanderthal Man, with the head RETRACTRED against gravity. Once again, don't extend the head. Keep looking straight between your hands.

One of the reasons is that it requires two movement simulaneously:

  1. humping and arching the lumbar spine.
  2. moving the head and neck STRAIGHT UP AND DOWN.

Begin them separately and, when you can do each part confidently, then try combining them.

First, the Cat portion of the exercise.

The Cat stands proud during these stiff neck exercises for neck pain. Head up, neck retracted and back arched.

  • On hands and knees, in a comfortable position, elbows straight.
  • Place your watch between your hands. At all times down at your watch. This helps prevent the temptation or arch your head and neck into extension. Now retract your head and neck, keeping your eyes formly focused on your watch.
  • Now drop the belly and arch the back.

Do not arch the head and neck. 

This is a surprisingly vigorous exercise if you're suffering from neck pain. Take is slowly, not going to the extremes initially.


The Camel

The Camel neck muscle exercise, done properly, is just as tricky. She's thirsty, and wanting to drink.

  • Drop your head STRAIGHT DOWN (not chin on chest), keeping your eyes firmly fixed on your watch.
  • Now hump your back.
  • Eventually try doing them together, when you are confident that you can do each of these exercises for a stiff neck separately.

And now of course these two stiff neck exercises for neck pain (the Cat and the Camel) should be done simulaneously. First, just the head bobbing up and down, then the back arched and humped, and finally (if you can, some people can never coordinate it) head and back together.

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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I've left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he's happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He's doing well.

3. Mrs T looked like the leaning tower of Pisa; she had a slipped disc at L5 making her lean towards the opposite side. It's called the postero lateral disc hernia; she's much better after two weeks of treatment and will go back to work next week, part time. Lateral discs are more difficult; both take a minimum of six weeks to heal. In my opinion, antalgic patients need what I call exercising bed rest. Sit and it won't get better.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months. He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the groin pain, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he's well pleased; sixty five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he's taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily walk has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your lower back is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her hip, knee and ankle issues. Xrays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Hypermobility is more difficult that too stiff in my opinion. Chiropractic is for kids too.

8. This 65 year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88 year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done.  

10. Mr X is a 71 year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a year ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It's a non complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she's doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38 old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he couldn't sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71 year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that's so much bunkum.



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