Neck Exercises for Cervical Spondylosis

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • Cervical spondylosis symptoms typically include neck pain, and sometimes this pain radiates down the trapezius muscles into the shoulder or upper back areas. Your doctor likely will recommend you exercise and stretch your neck muscles every day as an initial treatment for neck pain. If home treatment doesn’t work, then you may need physical therapy. Discover some simple stretching and strengthening exercises you can do at home to relieve neck pain and improve range of motion.

  • 1
    Reclining Neutral Spine Stretch
    Young woman lying on floor mat with knees bent doing yoga or meditating

    To perform this stretch, lie on your back on the floor (or another firm surface) without a pillow. If you cannot lie down without support, place your head on a folded towel. You may bend your knees. Bring your chin slightly down, toward your throat, so that only the very back portion of your skull rests upon the floor. Your ears, shoulders, and hips all should be aligned, but don’t force your body into these positions if they’re painful. Hold this posture for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Perform this stretch several times a day.

  • 2
    Neck Retraction
    Woman lying on floor mat meditating

    Ideally, you can perform this stretch immediately following the reclining neutral spine stretch, while you’re still lying on the floor. Otherwise, lie down on a flat, firm surface without a pillow or with your head resting on a folded towel. With your hand, gently push down on your chin so that the back of your neck wants to push toward the floor. You will feel the muscles at the back of your neck stretching. Hold this stretch for at least 20 seconds, then release. Repeat the stretch 10 times per session.

  • 3
    Neck Tilt
    Blond woman at desk working and stretching with hands behind neck

    This cervical spondylosis exercise can be performed when seated. Using a sturdy chair, such as a kitchen chair, sit with your feet flat on the floor, your navel (belly button) pulled in toward the spine, your chest out, and your shoulders back in good posture. Now slowly bring the chin towards the chest as far as you can without slouching. You should feel the muscles in the back of your neck stretching. Hold for 20 seconds and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.

  • 4
    Sideways Neck Tilt
    Middle aged Hispanic man getting out bed and stretching neck to left side

    While seated in a sturdy chair, with your feet flat on the floor and your spine erect in good posture, slowly lower one ear toward the shoulder while feeling the muscles stretch on the opposite side of the neck. Lower the ear as far as you can tolerate without pain. Hold this stretch for 5 to 10 seconds, then slowly return your head to an upright position. Repeat the stretch on the other side. Perform this stretch 10 times on each side, either alternating sides or stretching one side at a time.

  • 5
    Neck Turn
    Rear view of young woman waking up holding back of neck

    This stretching exercise can help restore range of motion to your neck while also reducing pain from cervical spondylosis radiculopathy (pinched nerve). While sitting in a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor and your spine upright in good posture, gently turn your head to the right while keeping your chin level with the floor. Turn as far as you can and hold that position for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat on the left side. Perform 10 stretches at a time, multiple times a day.

  • 6
    Chair Rise
    Asian American woman sitting with straight posture on chair in exercise studio

    Believe it or not, strengthening your core (abdominal) muscles may help relieve your neck pain. And you don’t have to do hundreds of crunches or hold a plank to see improvement. Start with the chair rise exercise. Sit in a sturdy chair with your feet hip-width apart. Sit with your spine erect in good posture and pull your navel toward the spine. Place your hands on your thighs, squeeze your thigh muscles, and rise from the chair to a standing position. Then slowly sit back down. Repeat 10 times per session. Your head should stay in a neutral position (don’t look down).

  • 7
    Seated Leg Raises
    Woman sitting in chair against white background doing leg raise

    This exercise strengthens your legs and your core to support your spine and relieve neck pain. While seated in a sturdy chair with your feet hip-width apart, tighten your abdominal muscles to pull the navel toward the spine. Place your hands on your thighs and raise one foot as high in the air as possible, while keeping your foot flexed. Avoid slouching while performing this exercise. Slowly return the foot to the floor and repeat 10 times on each side.

  • 8
    Shoulder Blade Retraction
    Senior Caucasian woman sitting at table at home stretching back

    This stretch just plain feels good to do and makes an excellent, pain-relieving break from sitting at your desk. While standing with good posture—hip, shoulder, and ears aligned vertically; chin slightly tucked—bend your arms 90 degrees at the elbow, then squeeze your shoulder blades towards each other and downward. This will pull your shoulders back too. Hold for at least 10 seconds, or as long as you can while maintaining good posture. Repeat 5 times, twice a day.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 15
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  3. Cervical Spondylosis (Arthritis of the Neck). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  4. Cervical Exercise: The Backbone of Spine Treatment. North American Spine Society.
  5. What’s to Know About Cervical Spondylosis? Medical News Today.
  6. Neck Pain: Core Exercises Can Help. Harvard Health Publishing.