Neck Pain? Stretches aren’t enough.

Neck pain? Stretching isn't enough. Meg one of our fantastic Physios will take you through some neck strengthening exercises.

Neck pain? Stretches aren’t enough.

As physiotherapists one of the most common complaints we see is neck pain and it’s no surprise; 1 in 5 people are suffering from neck pain at any given time, with people who sit and lean for work being one group that are more at risk. That’s a lot of people!


Neck pain can be very debilitating, with some people also suffering from reduced neck movement, headaches or pain and numbness down their arm.


So what can you do about it?


It is common for people with neck pain to seek help from their local health care professionals such as GPs, Physiotherapists, Chiropractors, Osteopaths, Acupuncturists or Massage Therapists. Massage and joint mobilisations are common hands on treatments, and stretches are often prescribed as part of an exercise program for home. 


For most of us, stretching a tight neck side-to-side or doing circles feels good. You feel like you’re helping release the tension, even for a little while, and when prescribed by a professional, people often assume they are helping. 


It’s time to set things straight.


First of all, there is nothing wrong with stretching. You are unlikely to do any harm to yourself, and it often does feel nice. But for those of us who don’t find it relieving, there is good news. You can stop stretching.


A study from 2015 analysed studies that had looked at the effect of different exercises on neck pain, and it found that stretching alone is not enough to improve pain or function. It suggested that strengthening exercises of the neck, upper back region and shoulders were a better choice.


So what are some of these exercises that you can try at home? We’re glad you asked! Below are 3 of the most common exercises a Physiotherapist will prescribe for someone with neck pain.


Chin Tucks (or more appropriately, double chin tucks)

This exercise works on lengthening the muscles at the back of your neck, while strengthening the muscles that don’t get used as often at the front of your neck. This movement should feel like the opposite position to that spend most of your time in, and it an easy one to do on your commute or while you are at your desk.


  1. Stand or sit up tall. This is important to be able to move through your full range of movement
  2. Pick a point at eye-level in front of you to fix your gaze on. This ensures that you don’t nod your head up and down in a ‘yes’ motion
  3. Gently draw your chin backwards while keeping your eyes fixed on your target. Embrace that double chin, as that’s when you know you’re doing it right!
  4. Hold for 3-10 seconds, then relax for a few seconds. Repeat 10 times, and try to do this exercise 3-4 times throughout the day


To make this harder, you can get down on all fours and pick a point on the floor to stare at as you move your head/chin up towards the ceiling. This is more challenging as gravity is working against you.



This movement builds on the chin tuck exercise, and incorporates the upper back and shoulders too. If you think about a sitting position a desk with your arms forward on to a keyboard, this exercise gets you doing the exact opposite. Your chin is tucked, your arms are drawing back and you’re not bent at the hips. It is also a great way to strengthen the back muscles that hold us in a seated position.


  1. Lie face down on the ground (it’s sometimes nice to have a towel or pillow at your forehead to protect your nose!)
  2. Keeping your legs on the ground, start to lifting your arms off the floor, thinking about squeezing your shoulder blades together
  3. Adding to that, keep your chin tucked (as we’ve just practiced) and lift your chest of the ground, holding for 3 seconds
  4. Repeat 15 times, and try to do it 2 times a day


Bow and Arrow

This exercise is focused on your shoulders and upper back, and introduces rotation to your exercise program. This exercise is best with a band, not a weight., and is one you can do while at your desk at work (embrace the funny looks you may get! Exercising in the office is the future!)


  1. Get yourself into an upright seated position with your knees tightly squeezed together (this prevents your lower back from moving too much)
  2. Hold an end of the band in each hand (it’s easier if your hands are further apart on the band, or harder if they are closer together)
  3. Extend your left arm out in front of you, while keeping your right arm straight. You should now look something like picture A, with your upper body twisted towards the right.
  4. Keeping your left arm strong, bend your right elbow, pull back on the band and twist your body further around to the right (keeping those knees squeezed together)
  5. Repeat 15 times on each side, and try to do it 2 times per day.


We hope these 3 exercises can get you started on your way to recovery. The important thing to remember is that strengthening takes time, and requires you to be constantly challenging your abilities so that your body is prompted to adapt to this healthy stress. These exercises are the very beginning and are likely only good for a few weeks before you’ll need to progress on to something more difficult so that you can continue to make progress. If you are unsure on what you should do next, we recommend booking in for a consultation with one of our Physiotherapists.


Happy strengthening!

No high quality evidence was found, indicating that there is still uncertainty about the effectiveness of exercise for neck pain. Using specific strengthening exercises as a part of routine practice for chronic neck pain, cervicogenic headache and radiculopathy may be beneficial. Research showed the use of strengthening and endurance exercises for the cervico-scapulothoracic and shoulder may be beneficial in reducing pain and improving function. However, when only stretching exercises were used no beneficial effects may be expected. Future research should explore optimal dosage.

The prevalence of neck pain was 20.3% (95% CI 17.3–23.7). The adjusted analyses showed that individuals who were widowers or separated (PR = 2.26; 1.42–5.88), had a low income (PR = 1.32; 1.22–6.27) or low educational level (PR = 1.83; 1.02–5.26), worked while sitting and leaning (PR = 1.55; 1.08–2.40), and who reported having two or more diseases (PR = 1.71; 1.55–6.31) remained associated with neck pain.