A recent study by researchers in Finland has shown that an exercise programme consisting of specific stretching and strengthening exercises can help decrease neck pain. The researches specifically wanted to know if exercise could help office workers with neck pain who spend at least 6 hours a day at their desk and who suffered from non-specific neck pain or neck pain that was not caused by serious injury.
Sedentary office workers who spent at least 6 hours per day sitting
Women and men between 30–50 years of age
Who experienced pain intermittently in the neck of at least moderate intensity ( at least 3/10)
Who had had at least two episodes of neck pain in the past year
People who reported chronic neck pain which they defined as continuous pain over 12 months
People who had suffered serious former injury in the neck (fracture, surgery, whiplash, protruded disc etc.)
The neck exercise programme
Participants had to perform the exercise programme twice a week for 10 weeks (20 sessions). Each session lasted about 1 hour and was performed under supervision of a personal instructor.
The programme consisted of:
A 10 min warm-up using a cross trainer
10 flexibility exercises (see picture 1 below)
4 strength and 5 core exercises (see picture 2 below)
A 10 minute cool down with some stretches
They focussed on keeping good body alignment of the whole body throughout the exercises and incorporated breathing exercises into the execution.
The main aims of the programme were to:
improve body posture
enhance movement control of shoulder-neck, lumbar and pelvic areas
enhance stability of shoulder-neck, lumbar and pelvic areas
increase flexibility of neck/shoulder area
increase range of motion of thoracic spine with main emphasis on rotation
increase muscular strength and/or endurance of upper-body, trunk and lower extremities
They found the training programme reduced the intensity, frequency and strain in the neck and shoulders of the participants.
A few important points
The programme did not focus on just the neck and shoulder girdle. It included exercises that strengthened the rest of the body. Your neck and shoulder girdle cannot sit in a good posture if the foundation lower down is weak.
The exercises do resemble Pilates type exercises, but you can apply the principles to nearly any type of exercise.
They did the exercises under the guidance of a personal trainer for 10 weeks. It is really useful to get some experienced advice/supervision when you start exercising as it is not always easy to maintain good form.
Suni JH, Rinne M, Tokola K, et al. Effectiveness of a standardised exercise programme for recurrent neck and low back pain: a multicentre, randomised, two-arm, parallel group trial across 34 fitness clubs in Finland. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2017;3:e000233. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000233