You may not think much about neck and spinal health until you’ve got a stiff neck, a kink, or your neck is constantly achy and bothering you. I was dealing with extreme neck discomfort and pain for a week and asked my physical therapist for neck pain mobility exercises to help alleviate it. After a few days of doing them for about five minutes a day, my neck pain was much better. The best thing, in my opinion, is that you don’t have to wait —and you most definitely shouldn’t—for neck pain to occur to improve the health and longevity of your neck and spine.
We often give our major muscle groups like our legs all the attention, but you’ve got to care for your neck as well. “The neck is subject to a lot of stress throughout the workday, a workout, or during a sport. Having adequate neck mobility or control over the range of motion [of the neck] can significantly decrease chances of injury from either receptive movement or even non-movement,” says David Jou, PT, DPT, co-founder of Motivny.
By stretching and moving, your joints, supporting structures, and nervous system become more familiar with the ranges of motion which reduces your risk of injury, explains Dr. Jou. “Not to mention, the added benefits of lubricating joints and improving circulation that helps prevent [the] breakdown of the spine.” Show your neck some TLC and alleviate any stiffness or pain you may be experiencing with the following neck pain exercises.
The 3 best mobility exercises for neck and spine longevity
1. Neck CARs
“Controlled articular rotations are amazing to get to know the end ranges of the neck,” says Dr. Jou. “Since the spine moves in so many planes of motion, it’s important to explore them to prevent breakdown.”
How to perform neck CARs: Starting from flexion with the chin to chest, draw your chin across the collar bone to the shoulder. From the shoulder, drop the ear to side bend into your back pocket before drawing your chin up to the ceiling. From there, draw the chin across the ceiling to the other side. Side bend then flex the neck before drawing the chin back to the center. Reverse for a complete neck CAR. Repeat for one minute, take a short break, and complete a total of three rounds. Make sure that you don’t feel any pinching while performing this movement and only perform it in a pain-free range of motion.
2. Neck extension with towel
“With aggressive work positions that force us to use our devices all day, we end up hinging from just a few segments [of our spine], and rarely do we get to use the entire spine. This exercise is to help us use our entire cervical spine to promote healthy movement throughout,” says Dr. Jou.
How to perform a neck extension with a towel: Grab a towel with either side in each hand, placing the center of the towel on the base of your neck. While applying downward tension, chin tuck—think about creating a double chin—then slowly extend the neck from the lowest segment of the neck up to the top. You should end the movement by looking directly up at the ceiling. Return to the starting position then repeat for three sets of 10 reps each.
3. Supine cervical retraction and lift-off iso hold
“This exercise is meant to correct the weakness developed from the lazy, forward position our head and necks are always in.” This movement will strengthen and improve the endurance of the deep neck muscles and can help improve any pain you may be experiencing, explains Dr. Jou.
How to perform a supine cervical retraction and lift-off iso hold: Start by lying on your back. Perform a chin tuck into the surface you’re on, then lift the back of your head about an inch off of the floor. Avoid jutting your chin out by placing a rolled towel between your chin and your chest. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat for a total of five reps.
Show your neck and shoulders some more TLC with this 15-minute tension-relieving yoga flow:
Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cult-fave wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.