Video Series: Exercises for Cervical Spondylosis

Try these 3 neck stretches and exercises to help relieve a stiff neck caused by spinal osteoarthritis also called cervical spondylosis.

People with cervical spondylosis (spinal osteoarthritis in the neck) are all too familiar with neck pain and stiffness, but did you know that too much rest can actually worsen those symptoms? It’s true: Spine specialists recommend incorporating gentle stretches and exercises that keep your neck mobile over long bouts of bed rest to manage the condition.

What Is Cervical Spondylosis?

Spondylosis is another name for osteoarthritis when it affects the spine, so cervical spondylosis is osteoarthritis of the neck. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis by far. It’s also known as wear-and-tear arthritis, and that’s just how it happens.

The ends of bones in joints (even the small bones of spinal joints) are wrapped in a smooth tissue called articular cartilage. This articular cartilage helps bones in a joint glide smoothly together and acts as a cushion that prevents painful bone-on-bone grinding.

Over time, articular cartilage breaks down, and your body goes overboard trying to repair it. Structures known as osteophytes—bone spurs—form, and in the spine, these bone spurs can encroach on the spinal canal, a condition called stenosis. When there’s so little room in the spinal canal that the bone spurs press on nerve roots exiting the spine, that’s when you get symptoms such as referred pain, tingling, and numbness.  

Causes

Most of the time, cervical spondylitis happens over time, as you age; it’s almost inevitable. Direct injury to the neck, overuse, and certain professions and activities such as gymnastics, dancing, and martial arts can accelerate the breakdown of your neck joints.

Symptoms

Cervical spondylosis often has no symptoms. When they do appear, symptoms can include:

  • Neck pain
  • Referred pain down one or both arms
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle weakness

Diagnosis

Your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for the presence of symptoms. For imaging tests, an X-ray can show bone spurs in your neck. Electromyography can assess the extent and severity of any nerve damage caused by osteophytes compressing nerve roots or the spinal cord itself (cervical myopathy).

Treatments

Osteoarthritis, including cervical spondylosis, has no cure, but it can be managed in a number of ways. Most doctors opt for a conservative approach before resorting to surgery, since nonoperative treatments can often relieve symptoms. Surgery is very rare, but physical therapy and exercise, especially the exercises below, often prove effective at easing pain caused by cervical spondylosis.

Exercises to Relieve Cervical Spondylosis

Your spine specialist may recommend 3 simple activities to add movement, flexibility, and strength to your neck: chin tucks, side-to-side head rotation, and side bending. Watch the videos above to learn the correct form for each stretch and get more tips on safely exercising with cervical spondylosis below.

These exercises are designed for people with osteoarthritis in their neck. If you have osteoarthritis in your low back, this Video Series: Exercises for Lumbar Spondylosis features stretches to help ward off arthritis-related low back pain.

Chin Tucks

Purpose: To stretch your neck muscles and maintain healthy posture.

How to perform a chin tuck in a lying down position:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. As you look toward the ceiling, move your chin toward your chest.
  3. Hold the position for 5 seconds. You should feel a comfortable stretch from your neck to the base of your skull.
  4. Repeat this movement up to 10 times.

How to perform a chin tuck in a seated position:

  1. Make sure you are using correct sitting posture.
  2. Looking forward, move your head backward so your chin is tucked down. Nothing beneath your head should move.
  3. Hold the position for 5 seconds.
  4. Repeat up to 10 times.

Chin tuckA chin tuck involves moving your head backward and tucking your chin downward to gently stretch your neck. Photo Source: SpineUniverse.com.

Side-to-Side Head Rotation

Purpose: To decrease tightness and increase mobility in your neck.

How to perform a side-to-side head rotation in a lying down position:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Rotate your chin toward your right shoulder. You may use your hand to gently pull your head further into the stretch.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds.
  4. Rotate your chin toward your left shoulder. Again, you may use your hand to move your head further into the stretch.
  5. Hold for 20 seconds.
  6. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side.

How to perform a side-to-side head rotation in a seated position:

  1. Make sure you are using correct sitting posture.
  2. Rotate your chin toward your right shoulder. You may use your hand to gently pull your head further into the stretch.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds.
  4. Rotate your chin toward your left shoulder. Again, you may use your hand to pull your head further into the stretch.
  5. Hold for 20 seconds.
  6. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side.

Man sitting in chair, performing head rotationGently moving your head from side to side can help relieve tight neck muscles and improve flexibility and movement. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

Side Bending

Purpose: To decrease tightness in the sides of your neck and increase mobility in your cervical spine.

How to perform a side bending stretch in a lying down position:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Tilt your head to the right, bringing your right ear close to your right shoulder. You may use your hand to gently pull your head further into the stretch.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds.
  4. Repeat the stretch on your left side, tilting your head so your left ear moves toward your left shoulder. Again, you may use your hand to pull your head further into the stretch.
  5. Hold for 20 seconds.
  6. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side.

Group of people performing neck side bending exercises.When your neck muscles are conditioned, they can better support and stabilize their nearby spinal structures (eg, joints and bones). Photo Source: 123RF.com.

How to perform a side bending stretch in a seated position:

  1. Make sure you are using correct sitting posture.
  2. Lower your right ear toward your right shoulder. You may use your hand to gently pull your head further into the stretch.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds.
  4. Lower your left ear toward your left shoulder. Again, you may use your hand to pull your head further into the stretch.
  5. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side.

Benefits of Exercising with Cervical Spondylosis

Your neck muscles have a big job: They help support the weight of your head, and promote healthy head and neck movement. But cervical spondylosis can restrict that movement. That’s where exercise comes in.

These stretches lengthen and strengthen your neck muscles. When your neck muscles are conditioned, they can better support and stabilize their nearby spinal structures (eg, joints and bones). More support and stability means a stronger defense against spinal osteoarthritis symptoms like joint pain and stiffness.

Can exercising with cervical spondylosis hurt me?

These 3 cervical spondylosis exercises and stretches can easily be done while watching TV or during a quick break at work. But before adding them to your daily routine, get your spine specialist’s approval. Even seemingly harmless stretches can cause damage, so please get your doctor’s approval first.

To help you get the most benefit from physical activity, your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist or other health professional to craft a spinal osteoarthritis exercise plan with your cervical spondylosis in mind. This individualized approach will take your specific medical history into account, and your physical therapist will teach you how to safely exercise and stretch.

Finally, always listen to your body while exercising. Pushing yourself too far may aggravate your neck pain and cervical spondylosis symptoms. Instead, focus on consistency. Incorporating these neck stretches into your daily routine may safely add flexibility and strength to your cervical spine, and help you better manage spinal osteoarthritis.

Continue ReadingIs Spine Pain Reducing Your Mobility?

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