My Favorite Strength Training Exercises for People with Neck Pain

1.)    4 Way Neck: One of the simplest exercises you can do to strengthen your neck is lift your neck against gravity. Most people are very surprised at how difficult it is initially. You want to lie down so your head is unsupported off the end of a bench or the side of your bed. Slowly raise and lower your head against gravity from a position of lying on your back, on your stomach and then from lying on your sides. Start with 10 repetitions. If you get light headed or dizzy following the exercise it could be due to an inner ear issue or circulatory issues and you might want to check with your MD before you continue, but if you don’t have any issues, progress to 15-20 repetitions. You will be surprised how much better your neck will feel when doing crunches and reading in bed after building up your neck muscles.

2.)    Standing Dumbbell Front Raises: Although this exercise helps to build anterior deltoids, it also helps to build the stabilization muscles for your shoulder blades (rhomboids, lower trapezius and levator scapulae). While doing this exercise, you want to make sure you are squeezing in between your shoulder blades, keeping your shoulders back and not bunching your shoulders up to your ears. Start with a weight that you can perform 2 sets of 10 comfortably with and gradually progress the weight. When you are focused on squeezing your shoulder blades together, this exercise takes on a whole new feel.

3.)    Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raises: Another exercise that is generally thought of as just a shoulder exercise because it will target your lateral deltoids, it also works your scapular stabilization muscles. The key to this exercise is also making sure you are squeezing between your shoulder blades and keeping your shoulders back. Start with a weight that you can perform for two sets of 10 and gradually progress.

4.)    Prone I’s Y’s and T’s: If you haven’t guessed yet, you are probably starting to realize that keeping the muscles that support your shoulder blades and upper back strong are a big key to keeping your neck strong. All the muscles that attach to and support your shoulder blades also play a key role in stabilizing your neck. This progression of exercises makes you use your neck and upper back muscles against gravity, helping to build strong supporting muscles. Seeing that we can’t gravity is going to continue to be around, we better get used to exercising in it! If you have a history of shoulder impingement pain the “I’s” and “Y’s” might be a little difficult and you might want to get that fixed before starting this exercise.

There are many other exercises that you can perform to strengthen your neck and upper back, but these are my favorites. Before starting any exercise program it is always a good idea to check with your MD or a licensed physical therapist. If you have any questions about these exercises or would like some progressions you can contact Michael Vacon, PT at [email protected]