Neck Pain and Exercise

Neck pain is very common and can be caused by various structures.  For many it’s a combination of joint and muscle irritation aggravated by poor, sustained postures like sitting at a computer.  A general term used to describe this type of neck pain is “mechanical” neck pain.  This essentially means that the pain is aggravated with certain movements and activities.  It is more common in women.

neck pain exercise final

There are various treatment approaches for mechanical neck pain.  Chiropractic, physiotherapy, massage therapy and athletic therapy are a few practitioner types.  Chiropractic adjustments, joint mobilizations, active release technique, graston technique, acupuncture and laser are some individual treatments that have also shown to be effective and are offered at our clinic.  But what about exercise for neck pain?  Is it effective?  What does the literature say?

A 2006 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise investigated the effect of exercise on neck pain.  In their research, they took 180 subjects and divided them into three groups; strength, endurance and a control group.

The strength group performed isometric neck exercises and dynamic upper body exercises.  The dynamic exercises used tubing and dumbells, doing approximately 1 set of 15 reps at 80% of their maximum.  They also did body weight leg and trunk exercises as well as stretching.

The endurance group performed neck flexion exercises with zero resistance.  They also performed upper body dynamic exercises and body weight leg and trunk exercises.  In general, they performed 3 sets of 20 reps.

Interestingly the results of this study found that both the strength group and the endurance group had a reduction in their neck pain following training.  In fact, the benefit was dose-dependent.  In other words, the more exercise performed the greater the reduction in pain.  Also those with the most pain showed the greatest reduction in pain.

Many patients and practitioners are inclined to avoid exercise when neck pain is present.  For many, the traditional approach is to eliminate your pain and then revisit daily exercise.  This research may change that line of thinking.  Perhaps it’s a good idea to start exercising sooner rather than later, as mechanical neck pain may benefit from both strength and endurance exercise.

Have neck pain?  Unsure if exercise is appropriate for you?  Give us a call, we can help!


Nikander R et al.  Dose-response relationship of specific training to reduce chronic neck pain and disability.  Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2006; 38(12): 2068-2074.