Exercises to Alleviate a Pinched Nerve in Your Neck

Medically Reviewed By Gregory Minnis, DPT
Was this helpful?
2

A pinched nerve, or cervical radiculopathy, occurs in the neck when a nerve is irritated or compressed. Stretching, strengthening, and postural exercises can help to alleviate a pinched nerve in your neck. A pinched nerve can cause pain in the neck or back area as well as other symptoms, such as numbness, tingling, and feeling like your arm or fingers are asleep. Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend exercises that you can perform to help reduce pain and release the pinched nerve.

It is important to follow the advice of your physical therapist or doctor before doing any neck exercises to alleviate a pinched nerve.

This article discusses exercises that can help a pinched nerve. It also looks at other treatment options, when to contact a doctor, and more.

Stabilization exercises

A woman sitting at a table and drawing with her head tilted to the side
Valentina Barreto/Stocksy United

There are several ways you can perform exercises for a pinched nerve in the neck. Stretching exercises can help relieve swelling, stiffness, and pain in the affected area. They can also help facilitate healing.

Supine deep neck flexion

  • Lie on your back and place your head in a neutral position. 
  • Gently nod your head, looking down toward your chest without lifting your neck.
  • Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat this exercise 5 times, around 3 times a day. 
  • Stop this stretch if your pain increases. 

Seated retraction

  • Sit upright and keep your head in a neutral position. 
  • While maintaining an upright posture, pull your shoulders, head, and neck straight back.
  • Keep your head and neck straight throughout the movement
  • Hold this for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat this exercise 5 times, around 3 times a day
  • Stop this exercise if you experience any pain.

Postural exercises

Postural exercises help you learn how to keep your neck in the correct alignment to both allow a pinched nerve to heal and prevent further damage. 

Neutral head walking exercise

  • Walk tall with your shoulders back and chest up.
  • Ensure your ears are positioned directly over your shoulders. 
  • Do not allow your head to fall forward. 

Supine neutral head exercise

  • Lie on your back and place your head on the floor. 
  • Ideally, you will not use a pillow, but if you need one, use a very thin pillow. 
  • Ensure your head is back far enough so your ears are aligned with your shoulders and hips.
  • Spend 5–10 minutes in the position. 
  • Repeat every couple of hours as needed. 

It is important to note that you will need to lie with your neck in a neutral position and look straight up at the ceiling for this exercise. If you are unable to do this, using a pillow can help ensure that your neck is not tilted back.

Strengthening exercises 

Strengthening exercises help ensure the muscles supporting your spine stay healthy and strong. 

Head lifts

  • Lie face down and rest your upper body on your elbows. 
  • Tuck your head down so that your chin is near your chest. 
  • Then, lift your head back up to a head-neutral position, tucking your chin as you move. 
  • Lastly, lift your head up and back as far as it will go as if you were looking at the sky. 
  • Hold the position for 5 seconds. 
  • Repeat 5 times, twice per day. 

Isometric strengthening exercises

Isometric strengthening exercises involve using your hand to push your forehead while pushing against your hand. There should be no movement during this exercise.

  • Sit in a chair with your head in a neutral position.
  • Using your hand on your forehead, push your head and neck forward against your hand.
  • Hold for 10 seconds, then relax. 
  • Repeat this movement with pressure applied backward.
  • Relax.
  • Repeat this movement with your neck bent to either side. 
  • Relax.

What other treatments can help a pinched nerve in the neck?

According to the Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal, other treatments for a pinched nerve include: 

  • injection therapy with medications such as steroids
  • oral corticosteroids
  • acupuncture
  • cervical traction
  • posture education
  • manipulation of the cervical and thoracic spine 
  • a cervical collar

In rare cases, surgery may also be appropriate to alleviate a pinched nerve caused by a bulging or herniated disc. You can discuss treatment options for a pinched nerve with your doctor. 

Learn more about pinched nerve treatments.

Does massage help a pinched nerve?

Massage therapy may help relieve the pain and discomfort associated with a pinched nerve. However, you should be careful to receive massage therapy from a trained massage therapist who is aware of your condition. 

Receiving massage therapy from someone who is not a professional therapist may irritate or exacerbate the injury. 

Is heat good for a pinched nerve?

Applying heat therapy can help relieve the symptoms of pain and irritation from a pinched nerve. 

For instance, a 2020 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that heat therapy, along with neck stabilizing exercises, helped decrease neck pain in older individuals. 

Heat may help decrease pain and stiffness in the neck. However, if the area is very inflamed, it may also increase swelling. For that reason, some doctors may recommend alternating heat therapy with cold therapy to decrease inflammation

When should I see a doctor?

You should see a doctor for a pinched nerve to formally diagnose the condition. Other conditions can have similar symptoms as a pinched nerve and may need different treatment, so it is important to rule out other causes of your pain. 

You should also see a doctor for symptoms such as:

Find out more about when to see a doctor for neck pain.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some more frequently asked questions about pinched nerves in the neck. Gregory Minnis, DPT, reviewed the answers.

What does a pinched nerve in the neck feel like?

A pinched nerve in the neck can have different symptoms. It can feel sharp or burning. You may also experience numbness and tingling that may radiate down the arm. 

Can you stretch out a pinched nerve?

You may be able to stretch out a pinched nerve. Stretching the area can help alleviate a pinched nerve. 

Does a pinched nerve in the neck go away?

A pinched nerve in the neck may go away on its own within days or weeks. Contact a doctor for advice on exercises and treatments to encourage healing.

Summary

A pinched nerve can occur when the upper part of the spine near the neck becomes injured or damaged, compressing a nerve running through or beside it.

Nerve compression can lead to symptoms of a pinched nerve, such as pain in the neck, numbness, and tingling down the arm or hand.

A pinched nerve may heal on its own. You should consult a doctor if you think you have a pinched nerve. They will be able to advise on treatments to help alleviate the pinched nerve. They may also refer you to a physical therapist who can teach you exercises that can help.

Was this helpful?
2
Medical Reviewer: Gregory Minnis, DPT
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 30
View All Brain and Nerves Articles
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.