What are the Different Types of Neck Exercises?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

The neck muscles provide support for the head and allow the neck to move. Neck exercises are those exercises that involve the muscles of the neck, of which there are many, including the deltoid muscle, the trapezius muscle, the scalene muscles, the sternocleidomastoid muscle, the levator scapulae muscle, and the splenius muscle in the back. In the front of the neck, one may find the thyrohyoid muscle, the omohyoid muscle (superior), the sternohyoid muscle, and the omohyoid muscle (inferior). Note that although it is appropriate to call all of these neck muscles, as they are in the neck, some of them, like the trapezius muscle, are also partly in the back, while others attach to part of the skull or the jaw.

An anatomical illustration showing many of the muscles in the neck.
An anatomical illustration showing many of the muscles in the neck.

There are different types of neck exercises that are carried out with different purposes. Neck exercises include exercises that directly target the neck and exercises that help recovery from or prevention of neck injury. Thus, there are some exercises that are “for” the neck, but do not primarily involve the neck.

Pressing against resistance can help strengthen the sternocleidomastoid muscles.
Pressing against resistance can help strengthen the sternocleidomastoid muscles.

One of the purposes of neck exercises is to increase flexibility and range of motion. These exercises may be part of a standard exercise program or part of a rehabilitation program after an injury. They may also be done to help keep the neck loose and relaxed in order to prevent or ameliorate tension headaches.

Gently rotating the head can be a soothing neck exercise.
Gently rotating the head can be a soothing neck exercise.

Strengthening is another purpose of neck exercises. This type of exercise may be part of a general exercise program, be intended to prepare for participation in a sport in which neck strength is important, or be an aspect of rehabilitation from an injury. Pressing against resistance is a key aspect of strengthening the neck muscles.

Neck exercises can involve several different types of movement. Some are done sitting in a chair, and these are the easiest of the neck exercises to describe in words. Bending is one such type. In bending exercises, the rest of the body is kept straight and still while the head is bent to the left or right so that the ear on that side moves toward the shoulder.

Rotation is another type of neck exercise. In rotation exercises, the rest of the body is kept still and the neck is rotated, with the face turning to the right or to the left. In flexion, the head is bent forward with the chin stretching down toward the chest. In contrast, in extension exercises, the head is bent straight back, so that the chin points at the ceiling.

Stretching the muscles in the neck and rolling the head from side to side can help alleviate the pain of a stiff neck.
Stretching the muscles in the neck and rolling the head from side to side can help alleviate the pain of a stiff neck.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments

Raynbow

Some jaw exercises also help to relieve neck tension, because a lot of neck pain can radiate from issues in the jaw joint. Looking at the ceiling and pretending to chew is a very effective exercise that helps to keep many muscles in the head and neck flexible.

Spotiche5

Though it is not specifically a neck exercise, I have found that keeping active by walking helps to ease neck discomfort.

Sometimes neck pain radiates from other muscles and joints that are located throughout the body. Walking helps to keep many of these areas flexible and mobile, which in turn helps to decrease pain and tension in the neck.

Ocelot60

I have found that it helps to rotate your head left to right as far as you can, holding it on each side for a count of at least 12 seconds. This simple neck exercise increases flexibility while keeping the neck muscles from tensing.

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