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Best Exercise for Neck Pain

Best Exercise for Neck Pain

Have you ever wondered what is the best exercises for neck pain? There are many to choose from but a recent study in January 2012 funded by the National Institutes of Health’s center for complementary and alternative medicine and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed a particular neck exercise is especially helpful to help with your neck pain. This published study found that a simple home exercises, increasing cervical range of motion, are more effective at relieving acute and sub acute neck pain than medication such as panadol.

Many people have Forward Head Posture (FHP) that results in muscles in the shoulder to strain and cause neck pain. If you read this post in our blog about Forward Head Posture (FHP), you will want to know what we can do about this condition especially the correction of your computer desk posture.  This study uses an exercise called “cervical retraction” with some neck stretches to help correct the FHP so that your head will sit more directly above your shoulder than in front of it. I believe it to be one of the best exercise for neck pain because it first correct forward head posture which is the cause of most postural neck pain. Neck retraction exercise helps you by strengthening the weak neck muscles and help correct the imbalance between the front and back muscles in the neck. Dr. Bronfort, the lead author, said that this neck retraction exercise, or chicken-like maneuver of the head, in which people pull their heads back and then tilt their chins slightly downward “seemed to be especially useful.”

Neck pain affects around 70 percent of people sometime during their lives. This is a common condition and can be caused by many factors such as lack of exercise, cervical degeneration, muscle imbalance, injury, accident, trauma, repetitive movement strains, poor posture habits and poor ergonomics.

Most of our patients want to know what exercise to perform to maintain their neck pain-free results after chiropractic care. You see even after correcting your neck pain without proper exercise we begin to lose the fight with gravity and the head starts to slowly, progressively move forward on the neck and shoulders. Our cervical muscles may not have the ability to resist the constant force of gravity. Hence, regular neck exercise can help maintain posture and reduce the recurrence of neck pain. I believe you have the discipline to spend five minutes a day, this may well be the single best exercise for neck pain, helping you stand taller and looking more confident.

Here are some tips when performing the cervical neck retraction exercise. When you try this exercise it may be easy to immediately try to pull their head backward, but some of you find that you may not be able to sustain this posture for very long. One of the reason is that your neck needs to slowly gain strength after working on this exercise. Another reason is due to muscle imbalance where certain tight muscles resist the cervical retraction exercise. The third reason we commonly see is due cervical neck misalignment or fixation that can make the exercise difficult. Ideally, you should do this exercise after correcting any imbalance in the neck. If you don’t have someone to guide you, and the exercise cause any pain or discomfort, stop and do not continue.

How do you Perform Forward Head Posture Corrective Exercise?

Cervical Retraction Exercise

Left to Right shows how to pull neck backwards.

First, start with the corrective neck retraction exercise. You many sit or stand upright and relax your shoulders moving them down and slightly backward. I like to do mine seated on a chair with a back rest if possible since this can help you to not sway your body backwards when you are trying this the first few times. Then, you place one finger on your chin and slightly tuck your chin, and then move their head backward while gently pressing on your chin. Hold this position for about two to three seconds and then release. Repeat exercise for 10 to 12 times. Perform this gently and stop if there is any mild discomfort. I do not recommend doing any exercise if you experience any pain or discomfort.

Best Neck Pain Exercise Video – Cervical Retraction Exercise Demo

Note the volume on explanation is soft but the exercise should still clear.


When should you perform Forward Head Posture Corrective Exercise?

The best times to perform this stretch is after daily activities that involve forward head posture such as working on the computer, eating, or watching television.  I like to perform this exercise at the end for my work day after bending forward for hours treating patients. As a precaution if you experience symptoms such as tingling, numbness in their neck, shoulders or arms, during your exercise , stop immediately.

How often should you perform Forward Head Posture Corrective Exercise?

Once you have mastered the corrective exercise, I recommend Resisted Cervical Retraction where you add resistance to the same corrective strengthening exercise. Adding resistance will take your exercise to another level. If you drive, you can perform this exercise in your car. Before you start your car, sit upright and relax their shoulders down and backward (neutral posture). Then, slightly tuck their chin and move your head backward while pressing your head back into their headrest (neck retraction). Hold this isometric contraction for 5 to 10 seconds, repeating this 5 to 10 times. In order for this exercise you must do this exercise every day to help prevent or reverse forward head posture and hopefully experience the resultant pain relief you wish to accomplish.

What Are Some Benefits of Doing the Cervical Retraction Exercise correctly?

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  • Experience less pain or strain without having to take pain killers or pain patch
  • Reduced neck pain recurrence
  • Enjoy a better looking posture
  • Less massages and treatments
  • Wake up from bed with less neck discomfort despite your pillow
  • Some of you might even look a little bit taller!


There you have it the best exercise for neck pain with research to back it up. Get started with your neck exercise right away. Do give your comments on your experience or questions!


Ann Intern Med. 2012;156:1-10 “Spinal Manipulation, Medication, or Home Exercise With Advice for Acute and Subacute Neck Pain: A Randomized Trial


Leave A Reply (5 comments so far)

  1. Wong Siew Shan
    3 years ago

    Dear Dr Tim

    Thanks for emailing me the link to this blog post which I found very useful and informative. I especially like the integration of information on related research and your easy to understand step-by-step explanation on how to perform cervical retraction.

    Your writing in first person view in many parts makes it very reader friendly personal. Reading it makes me feel like you are right in front of me during a consultation session =)

    Thank you for caring so much for your patients!

    Siew Shan

  2. Dr Lim
    3 years ago

    Thank you for taking the time to write and comment. I write for those who really want to actively take charge of their own health to bring it to the next level. There are tons of information that is overwhelming and I hope I can try to keep it simple yet practical.

  3. Maria Verivaki
    3 years ago

    thanks for the link on my blog – computer desk posture is probably not helping me at all, beside all those other factors that may have caused my problem – i’m checking out the video now

  4. akshay
    2 years ago

    So much nice information for us on this great blog.your information is so useful for us..thanks for sharing all this great information.

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