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Exercises For Stiff Neck

Exercises for stiff neck or even neck pain are one of the most effective treatments we have.

In this post we’ll talk about why exercises are important first.

Then we’ll have a quick look at the difference between a stiff young neck and a stiff older neck.

Finally, there’s 11 different exercise videos for you to treat, strengthen and resolve a stiff neck.

I hope you get as much out of this post as I did writing and filming it. – Dominic


Why Exercise For Stiff Neck?

The cause of your stiff neck for you, the young adult that you are is most commonly a muscle overload.

Massage, stretches and applying a heat pack are popular treatment choices for a stiff neck.

But have you asked yourself what these things actually do?

Does massage even work?

Are stretches actually helping?

Well, the short answer is that they help the muscle to relax and improve circulation.

That’s about it!  

But they do not do much to improve the capacity of your neck to tolerate load, which is exactly what you need! 

Exercises For Stiff Necks

How do they reduce neck stiffness?

It may seem counterintuitive but loading an overloaded neck muscle helps reduce stiffness. 

Remember the last time you started a new physical activity for instance weight lifting at the gym?

Initially, you would feel stiff and sore.

But as you get stronger, stiffness and soreness reduces. 

The same principle applies for your neck.

As they get stronger, your neck muscles develop a greater threshold to tolerate the loading you put on them.

Now, your regular duties like sitting at a desk are a relatively low load task for your neck muscles.

Sustained work can fatigue your neck muscles but might not stimulate them to grow stronger.

Studies have found that high-intensity neck exercises to be the most effective in relieving persistently stiff and sore neck muscles.

What About Exercises For Nanna’s Stiff Neck

So to start I’ve been talking about your stiff neck.

That’s right, you healthy young (or young at heart) adult.

As we get a few more birthdays under our belts, like our Nanna’s have had, a stiff neck can be a little bit different.

Let me explain.

Next time you’re visiting, take a good look at Nanna.

You may notice that she is hunched over and with her head sticking forward.

Now if you try to adopt that position when you move, you would notice that it is more difficult to turn your head or look up and down.

This is because your upper back and neck position influence your neck mobility.

The more rounded your upper back is, the more your neck comes forward.

This reduces the range of movement in the joints in your neck and makes rotation and bending of your neck restricted and stiff. 

You might think improving the posture might help.

Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. 

This is because as you age, your bony structure changes also.

While you can’t undo that, staying active, moving your neck and back regularly and strengthening your muscles would help you maintain your neck mobility and stay pain free. 

This connection between the shoulder muscles and a stiff neck is an important treatment pathway for fixing your stiff neck.

Shoulder Exercises For Stiff Neck 

Weak shoulder muscles can contribute to recurrent neck strain and stiffness. 

Whenever we lift, the complex network of shoulder muscles engage to provide support and facilitate movements.

The upper trapezius and levator scapula are two of the shoulder muscles that are connected to the neck. 

When other shoulder muscles are weak, greater load would be taken up by the upper trapezius and levator scapula. With heavy or repetitive lifting, these two shoulder-neck muscles can be overloaded,  leading to a strain and stiff neck. 

Strengthening your shoulders would help improve your sore and stiff neck in the long run. 

Exercises For The Sensitive Neck

  • For individuals recovering from a neck strain strain
  • Or those with longstanding neck pain and stiffness

Gentle Chin tucks

These exercises are recommended for the older stiff necks (👋 Nanna!) and those with neck tension related headaches.

Head Rotation With Chin Tucks

This one is for those who are aiming to improve mobility after a neck strain or sprain.

Gentle Neck And Shoulder Stretch

This exercise is to provide temporary relief for “tight” feeling neck muscles. Usually after prolonged loading through sustained sitting, computer use, overhead activities or stress.

Exercises For Improving Neck Mobility

This group of exercises are about getting that movement back in your neck.

Spinal Waves

A tricky one to get right, you’re really getting that neck moving here!

Spinal waves are a great exercise for painters, road cyclists, or anyone who spends long periods of time looking up.

Trunk Extension And Rotation

These ones are recommended for:

  • If you have difficulty checking blindspot due to stiff neck. Improving your thoracic mobility can help you turn your trunk with greater ease. 
  • If your back is stiff and you have difficulty bringing your arm overhead. Poor thoracic mobility would increase the loading demands on your shoulders, increasing the likelihood of overloading your shoulders muscles.

Dumbbell Pullovers

This one is a more agressive approach for improving upper back mobility into extension. It’s especially useful if you have tight muscles across your chest and side and a stiff upper back.

The Neck And Shoulder Strength Builders

Ok, these ones are getting more advanced as we build strength through the neck and shoulder muscles.

Monkey Shrugs

A must-do exercise!

If you have “tight” neck muscles from prolonged loading through those sedentary seated or overhead activities.

Shoulder Series

Here’s a full series of front raises, lateral raises, shoulder press, upright roe, reverse fly, W flyes and Y flyes.

You need to ensure you follow some strength training principles here.

Ensure the loads are heavy enough to take your muscles into their fatigued state in under 12 reps.

You’ll need to swap weights depending on the exercise and strength capacity of different shoulder muscles.

Push Up Plus

This one is good for you if you strain your neck regularly when lifting.

These exercises strengthen your pectoral muscles, deltoids and other muscles supporting your shoulder blade. S

Strengthening these muscles help take the load off your neck when lifting.

Rotator Cuff Ins And Outs

If your rotator cuff muscles are weak or you have shoulder pain, you might change the way you move.

An example is shrugging our shoulders when you lift your arms.

This increases the likelihood of overloading your neck.

Resisted Neck Extension And Rotation

This one is for you if you have a jarring or shock-like sensation going through your neck whenever you engage in activities that involve you pounding on your feet.

Think running, jumping or even driving on a bumpy road.

The All Important Disclaimer

This article is general advice only and not individual clinical advice.

You should always consult your physiotherapist or doctor before commencing any treatment.

You can book an appointment here with our neck-spert physiotherapists to workout what is the best exercise to relieve your neck stiffness. 

A few words of caution:

Any neck stiffness due to high impact trauma, or accompanied by unexplained dizziness, visual changes, fainting spells, fevers, nausea, fatigue, coordination issues, changes in mental state may indicate a serious underlying pathology and would require immediate medical attention.

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