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. Mrs D, a 78 year old woman has very severe sacroiliac joint pain, and even more severe cramps in her right leg. There are two problems; she is on two diuretics but no slow K. Taking her temporarily off one diuretic and adjusting the SIJ brought 50 percent relief within four days. 

2. Mr S, a 48 year old man, has right low back pain, groin pain and a numb feeling in his lower leg when he sports. For six months he's been off football. He too has two problems; a very treatable lumbar facet syndrome and a very serious blocked artery in the groin; it's called intermittent claudication. Smokers beware.  

3. Mr S looks like the leaning tower of Pisa; he has a slipped disc at L5 making him lean towards the opposite side. It's called the postero lateral disc hernia; we'll fix it, but he has to stop for a week or two. Antalgias are serious so take them seriously. 

4. Mrs V too has  two conditions; a chronic low grade sciatica giving her an ache in the right leg, and a threatening Morton's neuroma. She's glad I'm back in Holland; chiropractic fixed it before, and we'll fix it again. 

5. Mrs W is one of the lucky ones, says her doctor. I agree. He says only 40% of patients with lumbar stenosis have a successful operation. We fixed a nasty slipped disc three years ago, but it came back two years later; the surgeon did a fine job but she has a weak ankle now giving her subtalar joint pain; it's routine stuff. 

6. I myself had an acute exacerbation of a femoral nerve lesion last year. One immediate treatment of the new strain by my colleague has fixed the pain in the lower back, but there's some residual numbness in the lower leg; no soaring tomorrow alas.

7. This lady is a 86 year old woman with a 63 scoliosis. Chronic lower back has been her lot in life but she's well pleased with chiropractic and comes for chiropractic help once a month; some conditions you can never cure.

8. She is an 78 year old woman, is doing remarkably well with a bad sciatica. But over 200 pounds she is not losing weight; in fact, gaining despite my suggestions. She's high risk for a stroke. I have referred her to a dietician to crack the whip.

9. A 61 year old man with upper cervical pain yesterday; it's not severe but also not getting better of its own accord. He's afraid it may turn very acute as when I treated him three years ago. Since then it's been fine. 

10. A 64 year old woman has had scheuermanns disease; it's left her with a spinal kyphosis and chronic middorsal pain. She responds well to chiropractic treatment provides she come every six weeks or so for maintenance treatment.

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. Mrs D, a middle aged woman with hip pain of one year duration, despite other treatment. Xrays reveal an impingement syndrome and early hip arthritis. There's much to be done.

13. Mrs B has had one of the nastiest of conditions; vertigo caused by a disturbance in the inner ear. Falling repeatedly and vomiting she consulted her doctor but medication didn't help. After two sessions of the Epley manoeuvres she was 50 percent better. After two weeks 75 percent improved. No longer vomiting all falling. She's not enjoying the Brandt Daroff home exercises.

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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Interesting questions from visitors

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