Three Advanced Exercises for Neck Pain

Author: Bryan Lang, PT, DPT, MHA, OCS, CSCS, Cert.DN: Doctor of Physical Therapy, Business Owner, Associate Professor, and Blog Contributor. Explores common client questions, helps find solutions for every day functional health concerns, and interprets difficult theories in healthcare rehabilitation. Committed to life-long learning and education. Learn more about Bryan on Google+.

When I see people for neck pain, there is often a combination of issues occurring. Many times there are tight muscles and joints, but what often gets overlooked are the neck stabilizers that often become weak with neck pain (especially after motor vehicle accidents). Below are three advanced exercises that I use once my clients have passed the initial phase of pain control and are ready to move towards returning full stabilization strength to their neck. 

1. Deep Neck Flexor Exercise

This is the foundation for all following exercises. The average individual can hold this position for 37 seconds. How long can you hold? Remember to just barely lift your head from the table after tucking your chin. 

2. Deep Neck Flexor Exercise with Shoulder Engagement

This exercise helps me identify a few things. First, it allows me to see how well the client is able to integrate the neck stabilizers with active shoulder movement. Second, it will show any compensations that the client might have (for example overusing his or her upper trapezius muscles to complete the task). Third, it can identify if there is restricted shoulder motion and thoracic spine motion that could be contributing to the client's neck pain. 

3. Co-Contraction of the Deep Neck Flexors with the Neck Extensors 

The final exercise pulls out all of the stops with neck stabilization. With this exercise, a client will be recruiting both the deep neck flexor muscles, but also the neck extensors. Holding a co-contraction like this at the same time with good form and no pain gives me confidence that not only is the client recovering from their injury, but will have the neck stability in the future to stay pain free.