Anatomically speaking, the neck consists of seven bones, called vertebrae, that are stacked on top of one another and held together by a synergistic network of discs, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and other soft tissue structures. Neck pain occurs when any of these interconnected tissues are damaged by disease, injury, or wear and tear, resulting in an anatomical deficiency that causes discomfort, stiffness and, in some cases, nerve damage.
While most neck pain is acute and will go away on its own time, pain that lasts for more than six months is known as chronic neck pain and could be a sign of a bigger issue. In most cases, however, neck pain can be successfully managed with minor treatments or interventional pain management procedures.
Can Core Exercises Help Chronic Neck Pain?
One very effective conservative treatment available to people suffering from chronic neck pain is physical therapy, which is a combination of stretching, strengthening, and cardiovascular exercises aimed at strengthening the core and neck muscles to better stabilize the spine. This structural stability can help relieve pain and pressure on the bones and soft tissues of the spine and allow natural healing to occur. The improved strength in your neck will also enable it to better carry out one of its principal anatomical responsibilities: supporting your head.
This, in turn, will further help protect the spine from injury, as an inability to properly support the skull through its full range of motion is one of the leading causes of chronic neck pain!
Exercises for Relief
If you are suffering from chronic neck pain, here are some exercises you can do at home to stabilize your spine and help bring relief:
- Chair Stand – Sit in a chair with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your thighs. Tighten your abdominal muscles as you slowly raise up to a standing position. Slowly sit back down and repeat 8 – 10 times.
- Single Leg Raise – Sit in a chair with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your thighs. Tighten your core and exhale as you slowly extend your leg as high as you comfortably can. Slowly return your foot to the floor and repeat 8 – 10 times.
- Staggered Chair Stand – Sit in a chair with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your thighs. Move your left foot back so that the toes are in line with the heel of your right foot. Tighten your abdominal muscles as you slowly raise up to a standing position. Slowly sit back down and repeat 8 – 10 times.
- Heel Raise – Stand behind a chair with your hands resting on the seat back and your feet hip-width apart. Tighten your abdominal muscles and raise up onto the balls of your feet. Slowly lower your heels to the floor and repeat 8 – 10 times.
- Front Plank on Table – Stand facing a table or counter top with your feet together. Tighten your core and lower your upper body down onto the surface on your elbows, taking care to keep your shoulders directly above your elbows. Step back on the balls of your feet until your entire body makes a straight plank to the ground; you should not be bent at the waist. Hold for 15 – 60 seconds and repeat twice.
- Standing Side Leg Lift – Stand behind a chair with your hands resting on the seat back and your feet hip-width apart. Tighten your abdominal muscles and slowly life your leg to the side until it is about six inches off the floor, taking care to keep your toes directly pointed in front of you. Repeat 8 – 10 times and then switch legs.
Perform these exercises at home two to three times a day to strengthen the core and stabilize your spine. If your pain flares up at work, there are even exercises you can do while seated in your chair to bring relief. They include:
- Realign Your Posture – Make sure you are sitting straight up in your chair and your monitor is at eye level. Your elbows should be flex 90 degrees. Keep your shoulders rolled back and your chin held high.
- Neck Stretch – While seated, look straight ahead. Slowly look down at the floor for 3 – 5 seconds and then up at the ceiling for 3 – 5 seconds. Then turn your head very slowly to the right as far as you can and hold for 3 seconds. Return your head to the center and stay still for 3 seconds. Then turn your head to the left and hold for 3 seconds. And finally, bring your head back to the center. Repeat this routine 4 times.
- Chin Tuck – Sit straight up in your chair with your shoulders rolled back. Slowly tuck your chin into your neck, not your chest, feeling the stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.
- Thoracic Spine Stretch – Lift your elbows out to your sides with your hands resting on the back of your head. Pull the elbows back while stretching the spine and looking straight ahead. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Other Preventative Measures
In addition these core exercises, there are a number of preventative measures you can take to lower your risk of developing chronic neck pain. First, focus on your posture throughout the day, keeping your shoulders back and your chin up while avoiding a slouched demeanor. Second, participate in stretching and strengthening exercises like tai chi or yoga, which have been shown to help reduce neck pain. Third, pay attention to the ergonomics of your office or workspace, including chair selection, workspace set up, and mouse/keyboard choices. Finally, staying active throughout the day by walking once or twice an hour and standing as much as possible will help prevent muscle strains and sprains from turning chronic.