guy stretching | neck pain exercises

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—Amber O., California State University, San Bernardino

Whether we are in class listening to a lecture or at home completing an online assignment, we often have no choice but to sit for long periods of time. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re seated right now. Without moving, analyze your posture: Is your head tilted downward? Are your shoulders slouched forward?

Even if we start from a healthy posture, we tend to relax when our attention is focused elsewhere. This makes it easy to place stress on the posterior muscles of the neck and upper back. I’ve provided four exercises you can perform two to three times each week that help strengthen the muscles linked to neck pain. These can be done inside or outside the gym. Two of the four exercises require an elastic band—an effective, cost-efficient tool for at-home training.

Resisted head extension

  • Waffle your hands and place them behind your head toward the top.
  • Look up toward the sky, then touch your chin to your chest. This will look like an exaggerated nod.
  • The hands behind the head are constantly pulling the head down, forcing the chin towards the chest. Resistance is being applied during the entire movement when moving the head both up and down. This will strengthen the posterior neck muscles, which support your posture.
  • Perform 20 slow repetitions.

Lying “T” raise

Perform this movement on a padded surface or carpet to help reduce any discomfort.

  • Lie facedown on the floor with your arms straight out, forming a “T,” with your thumbs up.
  • Lift your arms and head off the floor. Keep your neck neutral by facing the floor.
  • Hold this position for 10–30 seconds. Repeat 3–5 times.

Low straight-arm pull

  • Anchor an elastic band around a stable object (e.g., a railing, a piece of playground equipment or furniture, a tree branch). It should be around thigh-height, somewhere between your knee and your hip.
  • Stand facing the band with one end in each hand at your sides. Your arms should be straight with no slack in the band. This is the starting position.
  • Maintain straight arms and an upright posture as you pull the band slightly behind you. Initiate the movement by squeezing the back and shoulder blades together rather than pulling only at the hands. Step backward or forward as needed to adjust the resistance of the band.
  • Perform up to 3 sets of 12–15 repetitions per set.

High elbow rows

  • Anchor an elastic band around a stable object (e.g., a railing, a piece of playground equipment or furniture, or a tree branch). It should be around chest height.
  • Stand facing it, holding the ends of the band in your hands, with staggered feet—one foot slightly in front of the other.
  • Lift your elbows so that your arms form a 90-degree angle with your torso. Maintain this position and an upright posture as you pull with both hands. Make sure to squeeze your back and shoulder blades together.
  • Perform up to 4 sets of 8–12 repetitions per set.