Exercise for Neck Pain

Why Strengthening Your Neck Matters

According to a study by the ‘International Association for the Study of Pain (2017)’, Neck pain affects 30–50% of the general population annually.

15% of the general population will experience chronic or recurrent neck pain (>3 months) at some point in their lives.

11–14% of the working population will annually experience activity limitations due to neck pain

Neck pain can be broken down into three things:

  1. Mechanical neck pain: This pain stems from the spine and its supporting structures (e.g., muscles, ligaments, cartilage, and bones). Typically, mechanical pain is caused by poor posture, neck strain caused at work or sporting/physical activities, and even stress
  2. Neuropathic neck pain: This pain is stemming from the nerves or nerve roots in the cervical spine, neuropathic neck pain could result from conditions such as a herniated disc that presses against a nearby nerve, or other causes of nerve compression
  3. Central Neuropathic Pain: most commonly a result of stroke, spinal cord injury, or multiple sclerosis. This may also be a result of injury to the central nervous system  through other trauma or infection to the brain or spinal cord (abcess, myelitis, encephalitis)

Suffering with neck pain? Keep reading!

That’s fancy stuff, now here is the everyday understanding and 7 most common presentations:

  • Postural neck pain: stiff and annoyed
  • Muscular neck pain: tight and sore
  • Cervical disc bulges with or without nerve pain
  • Neck pain due to facet joint injuries or arthropathy
  • Whiplash associated disorders (W.A.D)
  • Neck pain due to arthritis, and age related change.
  • Concussion and head trauma’s

One of the most common things we see in patients presenting to the clinic with neck pain, is that when they have in the past achieved symptomatic relief with manual therapy or massages etc they quickly then self-discharge.

Thinking, “my pain has eased, the problem is fixed!”

But, more often than not, the pain and symptoms of neck pain return, leaving the patient wondering why?

The fix to neck pain is not always in the manual therapy.

Manual therapy can help relieve pain, but it misses one important thing in the long term.


The neck is a complex area of deep (inner) and superficial (outer) muscles that create mobility and stability!

Why is neck strength important?

Here is why?

When you experience pain, the longer it lasts the weaker and more deconditioned the muscles around the neck and shoulder girdle become.

They get this way as when we are in pain we move less often, in an altered or non-optimal movement and the tissues around it weaken.

If you do NOT address the underlying weakness the symptoms will persist and they will return to when you get back to normal everyday activity.

Being consistent and completing an individualised exercise program can fully restore your strength, mobility and movement control that will allow you to restore normal function.

Exercise physiology is an essential part of an effective treatment journey for neck pain.

Check out the abundance off nerves in the neck, look how close they are to the muscles and joints. A weak neck can be causing all kinds of problems!

Where to start and how to progress exercise to a stronger neck!

There is no one best exercise for neck pain, just the best one for you at a given time.

Knowing which one is right is why you first need to test your neck strength. This finds what is weak and which exercise will remedy the weakness.

If you don’t first test, you’re just guessing. And if you’re guessing, you’re wasting time!

Once you identify the weakness, you can set the exercise.

Once you know the exercise, you need to know how much the neck can tolerate.

Simply, how many reps can you do before pain, or fatigue sets in.

If you just guess 10 reps, but you can only tolerate 4 then the other 6 could be problematic, flare up your pain or induce a level of fatigue too high for you.

The next important step is rest, how much rest do you need between sets of the same exercise or between exercises.

Again, you cant guess this! You need to be certain. If your weak, you’ll need more time between sets or even reps before you go again.

If your lacking endurance, you’ll need to work into fatigue, then allow enough rest to perform the same amount or more on the next set.

Are you confused yet?

If you are just your every day person, without an understanding of exercise physiology and science, you probably are and beginning to think “josh what are you on about!”

Exercise is not just something you do, it is like a drug.

  • If you use too much you get side effects,
  • If you use too little it doesn’t work
  • If you use the wrong one, you don’t get better at all!

Neck exercises can begin and progress to adding a band around your head and holding it!

Exercise is Medicine for Neck Pain

A thorough evidence-based plan of attack, which includes elimination of causative factors is vital for long term management, elimination of neck pain and stiffness!

Using ‘Exercise as Medicine’, our experienced Exercise Physiology team at Fighting Fit Physiotherapy are highly motivated and experienced in managing neck injuries.

Our unique approach is based on your own individual needs, personal goals, interests, pain history, and exercise ability.

Like any good recipe our secret ingredient is having a good team approach with our client’s treatment.

Whenever necessary our Exercise Physiologists also liaise with our onsite physiotherapists to ensure that you receive the most effective treatment available.

If you are wondering why your neck pain is ongoing, recurring or unsure of a diagnosis.

Our team will be able to assess the exact underlying cause of your neck pain, diagnose and put together with us an individualized plan to not only alleviate your pain….

But stop it from ever coming back!

How good does that sound?

Above is an example of a higher level neck strengthening exercise that adds in the shoulder girdle, trunk and hip. Not for the beginner!

Struggling with a sore neck?