What is the best exercise for neck pain?

Minutes to read

Neck pain has been shown to be prevalent in the broader population and it has been reported as being the 4th most common health complaint globally in relation to years lived with disability (Vos et al., 2013). It has also been found that neck pain can be experienced by children and adolescents of school age (Ståhlet al, 2008).

Now if you’re like me and have experienced bouts of neck pain in the past, finding the right exercise or treatment can be very confusing. I remember being told “do this”, “don’t do that”, “stretch these muscles”, “don’t activate this muscle” - so many different messages to try and understand.

It was highly confusing and left me feeling like there was no hope. But there is hope, don't worry.

But what does the research say in relation to the best exercise for neck pain?

Firstly, let's find out whether exercise even shows positive improvements in neck pain and disability.

Ylinen e tal., found that doing strength and endurance exercise improved both pain and disability over their 12-month trial period. This included significant reductions or absolution of pain in between 59%-73% of patients in the exercise groups with similarly impressive improvements in motion (Ylinen et al., 2003).

Heredia-rizo et al., also found that 5 weeks of eccentric exercise led to a reduction in both pain and disability in women (Heredia-rizo et al., 2019).

So, we know that exercise does provide benefit in neck pain and disability, but which is the best?

To date we do not have any strong evidence that one type of exercise is superior to any other when it comes to reducing neck pain and disability.

But what we do see is that regardless of what type of exercise we do choose to engage in we are able to achieve similar improvements (de Zoete et al.,2020). So what does this mean? Find something that you enjoy doing! In my opinion this is great news as it means we can choose exercise that we enjoy and that is specific to our own personal goals and still see improvements.

If you need help getting started or would like to get some extra help for your pain, reach out we would love to help you.

Want to now what the best exercises are for back pain? Jacinta, our physiotherapist, has prepared this blog to answer your questions.


1.    Vos, T., Flaxman, A. D., Naghavi, M., Lozano,R., Michaud, C., Ezzati, M., Shibuya, K., Salomon, J. A., Abdalla, S., Aboyans,V., Abraham, J., Ackerman, I., Aggarwal, R., Ahn, S. Y., Ali, M. K., Alvarado,M., Anderson, H. R., Anderson, L. M., Andrews, K. G., Atkinson, C., … Memish,Z. A. (2012). Years lived with disability (YLDs) for 1160 sequelae of 289diseases and injuries 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden ofDisease Study 2010. Lancet (London, England)380(9859),2163–2196. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61729-2

2.    Ståhl, M., Kautiainen, H., El-Metwally, A.,Häkkinen, A., Ylinen, J., Salminen, J. J., & Mikkelsson, M. (2008).Non-specific neck pain in schoolchildren: prognosis and risk factors for occurrenceand persistence. A 4-year follow-up study. Pain137(2),316–322. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2007.09.012

3.    Ylinen, J., Takala, E. P., Nykänen, M.,Häkkinen, A., Mälkiä, E., Pohjolainen, T., Karppi, S. L., Kautiainen, H., &Airaksinen, O. (2003). Active neck muscle training in the treatment of chronicneck pain in women: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA289(19),2509–2516. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.289.19.2509

4.    Heredia-Rizo, A. M., Petersen, K. K.,Madeleine, P., & Arendt-Nielsen, L. (2019). Clinical Outcomes and CentralPain Mechanisms are Improved After Upper Trapezius Eccentric Training in FemaleComputer Users With Chronic Neck/Shoulder Pain. The Clinical journal ofpain35(1), 65–76.https://doi.org/10.1097/AJP.0000000000000656

5.    de Zoete, R.,Armfield, N., McAuley, J., Chen, K., & Sterling, M. (2020). Comparativeeffectiveness of physical exercise interventions for chronic non-specific neckpain: a systematic review with network meta-analysis of 40 randomisedcontrolled trials. British Journal Of Sports Medicine55(13),730-742. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2020-102664

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