Stiff Neck Exercises For Instant Pain Relief

Posted by Lucy Jones on

A stiff neck, especially one that brings along pain, can be distracting, annoying, or downright debilitating. Depending on the severity, a stiff or sore neck can stop you from moving normally or even going about your daily tasks.

So, if you’re dealing with severe neck pain or stiffness, you’ll want to find some simple exercises that will give your muscles and ligaments instant relief.

Plus, the more you do these exercises, the less likely it is that neck pain or stiffness should arise in the future.

In this article, you’ll learn:

What Causes a Stiff Neck?

The truth is that stiff necks can be caused by a whole host of reasons. Everything from acute reactions to your environment to a pinched nerve to chronic and underlying health conditions could be potential cause for your severe neck pain.

However, most neck stiffness is caused by a few common things. We’ll cover some of these below to help you pinpoint and eliminate the source of your severe pain.

  • Stress: Many of us have dealt with a stress headache, often called a tension headache. These occur when we have chronic tension in the muscles of our neck and shoulders, creating pressure and, eventually, a headache, migraine, or another form of discomfort.
  • Injury: Obviously, injuries can cause neck pain or stiffness. While it’s true they can cause these issues shortly after the injury, injuries that don’t quite fully heal can cause chronic pain for years. That’s why it’s important to give your neck plenty of rest and everything it needs to heal when you get an injury. In other words, don’t wait. Common forms of neck injuries are muscle strains or sprains.
  • Medical disorders: There are some underlying health conditions that can cause neck pain or stiffness. These include arthritis, herniated discs, and postural and spinal conditions.
  • Infection: There are a few types of infections that can cause or aggravate neck stiffness. For example, meningitis is an extremely dangerous condition that can cause stiffness and pain.
  • Sleep: Many of us have awoken from a night of slumber to have a stiff or painful neck. Usually, this is caused by improper support. Learn more about relieving a stiff neck after sleeping.
  • Now that you know some of the common causes of a stiff neck, let’s discuss when you should start moving.

    When Exercise Helps a Stiff Neck

    Whether you wake up with a stiff neck or have one from an injury, your first instinct may be to not move at all. While you definitely need to rest any injury or soreness, many health officials talk the importance of neck movement and keeping range of motion and mobility when injured.

    This means you should still move in the range of motion that is comfortable to you. This doesn’t mean you should push yourself and do exercises that make you feel pain while recovering from an injury.

    Always use common sense and trust your body while recovering. Of course, if you have a serious injury or condition that causes constant, chronic neck pain and stiffness, consult your doctor before trying any stretch or exercise.

    Depending on the cause of your neck stiffness, symptoms should begin to subside within a few days to a few weeks. It’s important not to stop doing the exercises after your neck stiffness stops, however

    This is because these same exercises will help prevent the neck stiffness from coming back in the future. As you progress through these exercises, you’ll find some are easier than others.

    Spend some time with each one and remember to take it slowly.

    How to Get Relief

    Depending on the cause of your stiff neck, you may want to try some or all of the exercises below. You can experiment with what feels good and what seems to be the most effective.

    Of course, this could change over time, so remember to come back and try other cures and exercises. For example, after an injury, gentle stretching may be all that feels comfortable. But over time, you may want to add in some additional movements, such as strengthening exercises or yoga postures.

    Here are some stiff neck exercises that can provide relief for your neck pain.


    There are quite a few stretches that relieve neck pain or tightness. In fact, when experiencing a stiff neck symptoms, stretching is often a person’s first reaction.

    In some cases, they may move their neck in a fast, intense, or jerky motion. This can cause further injury, strain, or inflammation and should be avoided at all costs.

    Always go gently and back out of a neck stretch if it feels painful or uncomfortable. Here are some effective stretches for neck pain:

  • Shoulder to ear stretch: This stretch can also be called “lateral neck flexion”. In this stretch, you bend your head to one side until your ear is touching or is close to your shoulder. If you want a deeper stretch, you can gently place your hand on the side of your head that is facing up. Don’t pull on your head, just allow the weight of your hand to gently add pressure. Remember to breathe and on an inhale lift your head back to the neutral position. Repeat on the opposite side.
  • Chin to chest: This stretch can also be called “neck flexion”. In this stretch, bend your head forward until your chin is touching or close to your chest. You should feel this stretch in the back of your neck. Remember to breath and on an inhale return your head to neutral.
  • Back of head to upper back: This is the opposite of the chin to chest and is called “neck extension”. Lift your head and allow it to gently drop back until it’s touching your upper back or is close to it. Breath and on the inhale lift your head to the neutral position.
  • Side to side: This is also called neck or head rotation. Start by turning your head to one side until you feel a stretch. Don’t use your hands to do this, just use the muscles in your neck. Breathe and return your head to neutral on an inhale. Repeat on the other side.
  • Hands clasped behind back: While standing, clasp your hands behind your back and push them down and away from you as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. You should feel this stretch in your neck, arms, shoulders, and upper back. Breathe and, when you’re ready, unclasp your hands and return to a neutral position.
  • Bridge: The bridge is a very common yoga pose. In the bridge, you lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With your arms flat on the floor and by your sides, lift your buttocks, legs, hips, and lower back off the ground. Keep your core, glutes, and legs activated as you breathe through the stretch. This is the most advanced of all the stretches listed, so be sure to take your time with this one. On an exhale, return to a neutral lying position.
  • Range of Motion Exercises

    In addition to stretching, range of motion exercises will loosen stiff muscles and encourage healing. Depending on why you have a stiff neck, these exercises can be more difficult than stretching.

    Range of motion exercises are designed to move your joints and muscles in natural patterns, keeping them mobile and healthy.

    As with the stretches, go slow and don’t push yourself to uncomfortable levels. Here are some effective range of motion exercises:

  • Chin tucks: Chin tucks can be a good exercise to add to your everyday routine. You can also do a few chin tucks when you feel any muscle tension in the back of your neck. To do a chin tuck, sit up straight. Keep your shoulders back and pulled down. Your eyes and chin should be parallel to the floor. Then, pull your chin back slightly and pull your head up. You can imagine a string is attached to the top of your head and being gently pulled. Return to normal. Repeat as desired.
  • Isometric flexion: For this exercise, you can be sitting or standing straight. Next, place two fingers your forehead. Place very gentle pressure, but don’t allow your head to bend backward. In other words, you have to exert pressure with your neck muscles to keep your head straight. Breath and repeat on the other side. You can also do this with the other movements, for example, in isometric extension, you put slight pressure on the back of your head but keep it upright. You can also do isometric side to side and isometric neck rotations.
  • Shoulder rotations: Shoulder rotations can often help cure neck stiffness. This is because the shoulders are interconnected with the neck. This means that if your shoulder blades are out of whack, your neck could follow suit. Start by rotating your scapulas, or shoulder blades, up and back before coming forward and down to complete the circle. You can also do these the opposite way and start by rotating forwards. Do 10 each direction then rest.
  • Shoulder circles: You can also try shoulder circles. To do shoulder circles, extend your arms out away from your body with your palms facing up. Then, move them backward in small circles for a count of 10. Then, reverse and move them in forward circles. You can also experiment with larger circles to see what feels right for you.
  • Neck rotations: Neck rotations can be difficult for some with restrictions in movement due to a muscle or other structural issue. However, if you can do neck rotations without pain or discomfort, they’ll increase your range of motion and bring blood flow into your neck. To perform a neck rotation, start with your head in a neutral position. Tilt it to one side and gently allow it to roll forward and then continue in a rotation. Try doing three to five rotations before switching directions. As with all these exercises remember to breathe.
  • Strengthening Exercises

    In addition to stretching and increasing the range of motion, strengthening the ligaments and muscles in the neck, shoulders, and other areas of the body can bring some stability that will relieve neck pain or stiffness.

    Some of these strengthening exercises include:

  • Core: Many people suffer from neck issues due to weak abdominal and other core muscles. Try some simple core exercises like planks, plank variations, and leg raises. Other options are squats and deep squats, which have the added benefit of stretching and strengthening your legs and hips.
  • Shoulders: As mentioned earlier, shoulder health is a key factor in neck health. For many people, weak and unstable shoulder blades cause their neck to shift and tighten. You can strengthen your scapulas by hanging or doing pull-ups on a bar. You can also try simple exercises like shoulder dislocations. Though those sound dangerous, they’re easy to learn if you take it slow.
  • Aerobic: Though not strictly a strengthening exercise, aerobics can help bring relief to a sore neck. Running, for example, will help to loosen the body and will encourage blood flow to the neck and head. It will also bring endorphins, which are your body’s natural painkillers. These endorphins also help to heal and reduce inflammation, further reducing your neck pain.
  • Cervical Flexion

    Cervical flexion is a gentle procedure that brings quick and effective relief to neck pain and stiffness. The best part is that cervical flexion isn’t an exercise that takes a lot of effort. In fact, with a cervical flexion device, you can simply lay in the comfort of your bedroom or living room and have the device do all the work.

    Cervical flexion is when your head is pulled gently away from your neck, creating expansion. This allows muscles in the neck to relax. It also allows blood and oxygen to rush into the neck bringing relief.

    Cervical flexion is extremely effective and can be used daily for preventative measures as well.

    Remember to keep your neck healthy and treat neck stiffness before it turns into a bigger problem.