Neck Strengthening Exercises

The neck is a vital part of the human body and one that can cause any number of physical problems if it doesn't function correctly. The major causes of neck pain and weakness are loss of strength in our tissue as we age, or direct injury.

You can carry out some simple exercises at home to help create strength and stability in the neck. However, you should perform these exercises very slowly, being vigilant for any signs of pain. If you experience any pain, stop immediately.  It's always best to consult your physiotherapist or doctor before undertaking any new physical conditioning programme.

Chin Tuck

This is one of the most effective exercises for addressing neck pain caused by poor posture.  Chin tucks help to strengthen the postural muscles that hold the head in proper alignment over the shoulders. It's possible to perform this exercise several times over the course of the day. You can do this whilst sitting at your desk at work, in your car, or even at home whilst you're watching TV. 

This may help to promote the adoption of healthy postural habits too.  When you've been slouching or slumped over a desk and you begin to feel an ache in your neck and shoulder blades, this is the exercise to do. The first time you perform this exercise, it's a good idea to stand with your spine against a door jamb for stability.

  • Keeping your spine pressed up against the door, pull your head and upper spine backwards until the back of the head touches the door. Make sure your chin is tucked in so that your head is pulled straight back.
  • Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat this ten times
  • After this, you can start to perform this exercise away from the support of the door and you can increase the number of times you perform the exercise to 5-7 times a day.

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

This is a great exercise for strengthening the muscles of the upper back.

  • Begin by standing or sitting up with your back straight.
  • Tuck your chin a little and press your shoulders back slightly.
  • Now, slowly squeeze your shoulder blades together, squeezing as hard as you can, but build the movement slowly
  • Hold for 5 seconds and repeat ten times.

Static Extension

This is a slightly more advanced exercise, so work up to it slowly.

  • Start by sitting or standing up with your back and neck straight and your shoulders pressed back slightly.
  • Put one hand behind your head and slowly push your head back into your hand.
  • Pay attention to the way you feel and if you sense any pain, stop immediately.
  • Keep facing forwards and hold this position for three seconds.
  • Repeat ten times.

You should begin very gradually with three repetitions of each exercise.  You should always proceed with caution and if you are experiencing pain in your neck, shoulders or back, see your GP without delay. The muscles and joints in your neck are incredibly important, and when they are weak it can lead to a whole host of problems such as; a backache, headaches, shoulder tension and compression of the neck vertebrae.

If you do neck strengthening exercises regularly, you can strengthen your neck easily, which will not only help to prevent future health problems but help relieve current issues you may have that are caused by having a weak neck.

It is important that you only perform these exercises if you have no prior neck or back injuries that need special medical care. Please also ensure you do not continue these exercises if they cause you pain, cause you to feel lightheaded or feel very uncomfortable.

Simple Head Turn

You can perform this exercise standing up, sitting or kneeling depending on your preference. Ensure your spine is straight and your breathing is calm. Facing forward, turn your head to one side until it will not turn any further, and return it to the centre and continue to turn it to the other side. Repeat a few times.

Simple Head Rotation

You can perform this exercise standing up, sitting or kneeling depending on your preference.

Ensure your spine is straight and your breathing is calm.
Facing forwards, allow your head to drop to your chest, allow the weight of your head determine where it rests.
Then keeping your chin next to your chest slowly rotate your head round to one side until your cheek and chin touch your shoulder, and then slowly rotate across to the other side.
Repeat a few times.

Nodding Dog

Standing or sitting bend your head down until you are looking at the floor and your chin is touching your chest. Slowly bring your head up to a neutral position and then let it slowly fall back until you are looking up towards the sky. Repeat a few times.

The Gurn

With this exercise, you are basically trying to give yourself a double chin. You simply start in a neutral position and then retract your head into your neck and lower your chin a little, you should feel a really nice stretch on the back of your neck. Repeat a few times.

The Undecided Nodding Dog

Face forward and let your head slowly drop to your shoulder sideways until it reaches its maximum flexibility. Then bring it back up to a neutral position and let it fall to the other side. Repeat a few times.

The Proud Pigeon

Stand or sit in a relaxed neutral position with your back straight and your arms down at your side. When comfortable slowly push your shoulder blades together as much as you can for five seconds, and then relax. Repeat several times.

The Poser

Stand or sit with your back straight and your body relaxed. Place one hand behind your head and push your head against it gently - you should do this slowly or you may cause yourself pain. Hold for three seconds and then relax. Repeat several times.

More Advanced Exercises

As with the above exercises do not attempt any of the below if you have a neck or back injury, or if the exercises cause you to feel pain, light-headed or uncomfortable.

Resistance Push

Standing in a relaxed and neutral position, place both hands behind your head and push your head against them as hard as you can making sure your hands do not move. Repeat several times.

Scarf Pull

Stand or sit in a neutral position facing forwards. Using a scarf, towel or other long strong material place it behind your head at the place where your hair meets your neck. Hold both ends of the scarf and slowly pull to push your chin down towards your chest. Holding the scarf, begin to pull your head up so it is working against the resistance from the scarf until you have fully raised it. Repeat this process several times.

Weight Curls

When you do this for the first time choose light weights and have a spotting partner with you until you feel comfortable doing the exercise yourself. Lie front ways on a bench with your head hanging over the edge of the bench, your shoulders in line with where the bench ends. Using both your hands hold a weight at the back of your head and begin to slowly move your head upwards, and then lower the neck back down. Repeat several times.

Yoga Headstand

If you already practise yoga you will have seen people practising headstands. They are tricky to master and should not be attempted unless you are confident in your abilities. When attempting it for the first few times have someone with you for physical support.

To achieve a headstand all you need to do is place a head donut or cushion on the floor next to a wall, kneel down and place your head onto the pillow, hands at the side of your head palms down. Then using your upper body strength and core strength bring your legs up above you to rest against the wall. Stay here as long as it feels comfortable. This is a basic yoga headstand position and can be made even more complex depending on your strength - but it is best to start simple first.

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