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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 B  came initially for a painful and stiff neck and then asked whether chiropractic could help the cold numb feeling running down the side of his thigh for six months. Meralgia paresthetica is a double crush syndrome with the nerve affected in the back and groin. He's 80% improved after five treatments.

2. Mrs C has a long history of severe, disabling migraine headaches since having her wisdom teeth removed. She clenches her teeth at night. After six treatments she has no migraines but some jaw joint discomfort remains; a bite plate is in the offing.

3. Mrs U has the trophy for the worst back this year. After major surgery with plates and screws two years later she still had paresis in the lower leg and severe disabling back pain. She's doing far better than expected, in no little part due to a lift in her shoe for a very short leg.

4. Mr V is 86 years old and hurt his back helping his wife into the car. Just one treatment of the sacroiliac joint and he's eighty percent better. It's not always like that.

5. Mr W lay on his back knocking down a pillar. Turning his head causes severe vertigo. He needs the Epley exercises, not pills, research shows. Update, he's fine.

6. Mrs X, a young mother has severe lower back pain, with numbness down the posterior thigh, calf and side of her foot. It started after a long drive in the car. After six treatments she is 60 percent better, but it's slow and is going to take the full 6 weeks to heal.

And now a setback, after lifting her child she now has leg pain. It's going to the be difficult.

7. This lady is a 70 year old woman, is on maintenance care for a nasty lumbar stenosis despite having to do everything at home. Her husband has a hospital acquired infection after a total shoulder replacement. After four operations he is incapacitated.

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. This man is a 73 year old engineer, still working, is doing fine after a long episode of lower back pain. Some pain on the side of the hip remains after five treatments. I reassured him it's not hip arthritis.

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. Mr 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. Both Mrs E and I can't believe how much better her lower back and leg pain are. Surgery for a scoliosis and spondylolysthesis three years ago helped greatly for one year. But then her leg went lame and weak. He was responded extremely well despite all expectations.

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



Have a problem that's not getting better? Looking for a different slant on your pain? Want to pose a question?


Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.
You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

Your own unresolved problem. Pose a question

Knowing that up to 70% of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there's a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong! Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.


You visited this chiropractic help site no doubt because you have a problem that is not resolving and want to know more about what chiropractors do.

The quickest and most interesting way is to read one of my ebooks of anecdotes. Described by a reader as gems, both funny and healthful, from the life and work of a chiropractor, you'll love them. Priced right at $2.99, though Kindle fiddles the price without telling me.