Exercises for a Pinched Nerve in Your Neck

By Emily Sanderson

A pinched nerve in your neck often is caused by a trigger point that “refers” pain to another place in your body. Simple exercises will strengthen your neck, shoulder and upper back muscles.

Address the Pain

Rising from bed one morning, you experience a sharp pain in your neck with a burning sensation that flares upward to your head and down through your shoulder, arm and possibly your wrist and hand.

The pain can level you, and no matter what your obligations that day and possibly the next, you find that extensive rest is your only option. Your doctor orders an X-ray and possibly an MRI, prescribes an anti-inflammatory medication, and then tells you to keep resting.

Although a pinched nerve may be caused by something more serious, such as a disk herniation (slipping out of place) or an arthritic spur, the book "Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual" suggests that trigger points that "refer" pain to your neck from your upper back and shoulders are the most common cause of the pain. Strengthening these muscles and the muscles in your neck will help to better support your spine and reduce future injury.

Strengthen Your Back and Neck

Physical therapists and chiropractors employ a number of stretches that can make all the difference. Some will prescribe traction in addition to stretches to alleviate compacted disks. Each injury is slightly different and affects different muscles, but the following are some exercises that you can do at home:

  1. Range of motion exercise--lateral flexion • Sit in a chair while keeping your neck, shoulders and trunk straight. • Tilt your head slowly to the right shoulder, then to the left, moving to the point of pain. • Do not rotate your head while tilting or raise your shoulder toward your head. • Relax and repeat.

  2. Stretching exercise–levator scapulae • Sit in a chair. • Place your hands behind your head. • Gently move your chin to your chest while slowly turning toward the right. • Hold for 10 seconds, then relax. • Repeat exercise for your left side. • Relax and repeat.

  3. Trapezius and levator scapulae muscle strengthening • Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the ground. • Push your shoulder blades together. Your neck, although relaxed, should be slightly arched back and the muscles at the top of your shoulders (upper trapezius) also should be relaxed. • Release your shoulder blades. • Relax and repeat.

Do each of these exercises in sets of 10 according to your ability. Be careful not to push yourself too much at first, as this can result in additional injury. Start slowly and increase the number of sets as you are able. For best results, see a physical therapist or chiropractor who can diagnose your particular neck problem.

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