With age, osteoarthritis (OA) can cause our joints to become stiff and sore. OA can affect all joints, including our knees, hands, wrists, and feet.

Here are a few exercises you can try for relieving neck arthritis. Remember to move gently and smoothly through each exercise. Never make any sudden movements or jerk your neck. Also, stop if any exercise increases your neck pain.

This stretch works both the front and back of your neck to increase flexibility and movement:

  1. Stand up straight or sit in a chair. Slowly drop your head forward until your chin touches your chest.
  2. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds. Then return to your starting position.
  3. Next, lean your head slightly back and hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds.
  4. Repeat the stretch in each direction 5 times.

Please note that if you have OA in your neck, known as spondylosis, leaning your head slightly back may worsen symptoms.

If this is the case for you, please stop this part of the exercise. However, if it doesn’t bother you, continue with the movement to maintain mobility.

This opposing motion works the sides of your neck:

  1. Stand up straight or sit in a chair.
  2. Slowly tilt your head toward your right shoulder while keeping your left shoulder down. Sometimes it helps to hold on to the bottom of your chair with your left hand to intensify the stretch.
  3. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, then return your head to center.
  4. Repeat on the left side by tilting your head toward your left shoulder and holding your right shoulder down.
  5. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds.
  6. Repeat this whole sequence 5 times.

Here’s another good exercise for the sides of your neck:

  1. Sit in a chair or stand with good posture.
  2. Slowly turn your head to the right, keeping your chin straight.
  3. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, then return to center.
  4. Slowly turn your head to the left and hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Then return to center.
  5. Repeat 5 times on each side.

You should feel this stretch in the back of your neck:

  1. Sit in a chair with your shoulders back and your head straight. Pull your chin straight in, like you are making a double chin.
  2. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds while feeling the stretch in your neck.
  3. Return to your original position.
  4. Repeat 5 times.

While you focus on your neck, don’t neglect your shoulders. Exercising your shoulders will also strengthen the muscles that support your neck.

Shoulder rolls are a basic, easy exercise to keep your shoulder and neck joints fluid:

  1. Sit in a chair or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Roll your shoulders up, back, and down in one smooth motion.
  3. Repeat this movement 5 times.
  4. Then reverse the motion, rolling your shoulders up, forward, and down 5 times.

At first, you may only be able to do one or two repetitions of each exercise. As you get used to the movements, you should be able to increase the number of reps.

You might feel a little discomfort when you first try a new exercise, but you should never feel pain. If any movement hurts, stop and check with your doctor or physical therapist.

Repeat these exercises every day for 6 to 8 weeks. If your pain doesn’t let up, gets worse, or you have any weakness in your arms or hands, call your doctor for advice.

Before exercise, it can also be helpful to know which movements may exacerbate stiffness.

At this time, there’s not a lot of strong clinical evidence to point to a few specific exercises that benefit or worsen neck pain.

Best practices point to a mix of manual therapy, strength training, stretching, and movement retraining.

However, exercise is believed to be one of the best forms of treatment for chronic neck pain.

While finding the best exercise routine for your body, stay tuned in to any uncomfortable sensations. From there, you can decide what does and doesn’t work.

Be mindful of these movements during exercise and in your daily routine to avoid an arthritic flare-up:

Intense trap exercises

The trapezius is a large muscle group that extends from the neck and shoulders to the middle back. Many times neck pain caused by OA is worsened with overuse of the upper trapezius muscles (the area to the sides of your neck).

If you do a lot of weighted shoulder shrugs or lifting weight above your head repetitively with poor form, the upper trapezius muscles can become overused and contribute to neck pain and poor posture.

Forward-leaning exercises

Exercises that repeatedly pull the neck muscles forward, such as cycling, should be performed with caution.

In a 2019 questionnaire featuring over 700 cyclists, neck pain was the highest self-reported discomfort while cycling compared with other body parts. The study did factor in experience level, and the more experienced cyclists reported less pain than participants with less experience.

For people managing neck arthritis, take your posture and the intensity of the workout into consideration.

Phone and internet posture

Constantly looking down at your phone or jutting your chin forward while using a computer can intensify neck pain, especially in people with diagnosed neck arthritis.

The digital culture we live in doesn’t always benefit our posture, which is why using technology mindfully with armrests and back support is so important.

In a small 2018 study about posture as a risk factor for neck pain, study participants who kept their phone at eye level and had extra neck, shoulder, and back support showed fewer signs of physical stress than those who had no chair support.

Manual labor jobs and those that require extended hours on the computer are also hard on the neck and shoulder muscles.

When possible, remember to take daily breaks to perform the exercises listed above.


If you have neck arthritis, be aware of improper neck and spine alignment from poor pillow positioning or the wrong pillow.

Neck pain is tied to approximately 70 percent of all sleeping disorders, estimates a 2020 study.

To avoid sleeping at an awkward angle, try sleeping on your side with a pillow at an even level with the natural curvature of your neck.

If your neck is sore, talk with a doctor to find out exactly what’s causing your pain. You can visit your family doctor or contact a specialist like an orthopedist, rheumatologist, physical therapist, or osteopathic doctor.

Your doctor can also advise you on therapies to help relieve the pain, such as postural changes, yoga, or Pilates. They may also recommend pain-relieving medication or steroid injections.

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