People often ask me “What kind of stretches and exercises can I do for neck pain and stiffness?” In fact, I had a friend ask me that question today. I love getting this question because rehab is a part of our treatment plan in 95% patients. Patients are usually surprised to hear this because other chiropractors they’ve been to sometimes deliver a neck adjustment and tell them when to return for another visit.

It is great to see their excitement when they hear me explain that not only am I going to adjust them and treat their muscles and soft tissues, but I’m going to give them some neck stretches and exercises to take home with them to speed their recovery and keep the issue from returning. Let’s be honest, everyone wants to get feeling better as soon as they can, and having a rehabilitation plan can help expedite recovery.

Neck Flexibility Exercises

Rehab for neck pain should start with Flexibility exercises. It is extremely important to restore flexibility to reduce pain and improve range of motion. Chiropractors are experts on the spine, so who better to advise someone on how to do this?

Neck Pain Rehab Exercises

Step 1: Flexibility

Scaleni Stretch – Repetitions: 3 sets of 3 each side. Frequency: Daily

  • Sit in a backed chair looking straight ahead with the crown of your head up and your chin slightly down.
  • Grab the bottom of the chair with your right hand, bring your left ear to your left shoulder, and with your left hand gently pull your head to the left while pulling up on the chair with your right hand.
  • Hold this for 5 seconds, then return your head to a neutral position and rest for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat this exercise on the opposite side.

Neck Rolls/Circles – Repetitions: 3 sets of 3 each side. Frequency: Daily

  • Sit in a backed chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Turn your head to the left as far as you can comfortably, then let your head drop down forward and slowly roll it towards the right as far as you can. When you reach this point hold there for 5 seconds, then drop your head down forward again and roll back towards the left.
  • Hold for 5 seconds here and return back the other direction.
  • Avoid extending your neck all the way back and looking up at the ceiling.

Neck Range of Motion Stretches – Repetitions: 1 set of 3 for each direction. Frequency: Daily

  • This exercise should be performed for both sides in rotation, lateral flexion (bringing the ear to the shoulder), and flexion (bringing the chin towards the chest.)
  • Move your head in the desired direction and when you feel you have reached your maximal range of motion use a hand to push very gently to achieve a bit more motion in that direction.
  • Hold this for 5 seconds.

Towel Pulls for the Neck – Repetitions: 3 sets of 3.Frequency: Daily

  • Roll a bath towel length-wise for this exercise and sit or stand to look straight ahead.
  • Hold the towel on each end with both hands and place the middle so it is taught behind your neck.
  • Pull gently on the towel and let your head fall backward. Hold this for 10 seconds and then release tension on the towel and look straight ahead. Repeat this step.
  • This exercise usually provides a lot of relief and it is great for helping maintain and restoring the normal curvature of the neck.

Chin Tucks – Repetitions: 3 sets of 3. Frequency: Daily

  • Standing with your back against a wall using a hand to push the chin directly backward. This is a very small movement and should create the appearance of a double chin. Avoid bringing the chin down towards the chest as this is not the correct movement.
  • This should be felt deep in the neck, and the neck muscles near the skin should be soft and relaxed during this movement.
  • After holding for 5 seconds relax and let the chin come forward. Repeat.
  • This exercise typically takes some time to master, but when it is done right it is great for flexibility and mobility of the upper neck and base of the skull.

General Tips for these Exercises

  • I typically recommend patients perform these at least twice daily. Morning and night are great times, but if you’re busy any time will do. If you carve out a small portion of time you can get them done in 10 minutes or less.
  • Every case is different, and many people will start feeling pain relief and increased neck flexibility immediately. For more complex cases it may take a bit longer.

If you have questions, be sure to ask your chiropractor and have he or she demonstrate them for you. Be sure to consult your chiropractor before beginning a neck rehabilitation program. These stretches are great for you to do periodically after your pain resolves to maintain good flexibility and spinal health. Neck rehab is fairly straightforward as there aren’t a lot of different stretches you can do with the neck and head.