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4 Common Exercises to Avoid with Neck Arthritis

Neck arthritis is a common degenerative condition that can cause discomfort and pain in the neck and upper back. Many people with arthritis in the neck will have difficulty performing strength and flexibility exercises without flaring their joint pain. At MPR Health we want our patients to exercise and strengthen their necks safely without their regular exercise leading to severe pain. If you’re looking for an exercise program to help relieve the symptoms of your neck arthritis, it’s important to avoid or alter these four exercises:

neck arthritis exercise to avoid

Table of Contents

4 Exercises to Avoid or Alter if You Have Neck Arthritis

1. Bridges

Bridges, sometimes called ‘glute bridges’ are popular exercises for strengthening your back and abdominal muscles. However, the starting position of your neck in this exercise can put pressure on the vertebrae in your upper spine. This exercise can aggravate the symptoms of neck arthritis and lead to painful joints during or after the exercise.

What to do instead:

Prone hip extension. Prone hip extension is an excellent alternative to bridges. It’s an exercise that strengthens your abdominal muscles but doesn’t put pressure on your spine and neck. Be sure to use a pillow or jumper to support the neck, especially if you are currently having severe neck pain. 

2. Lat Pull-Downs

Lat pull-downs are an exercise that can help strengthen the muscle mass of your shoulders and back. This can be a fantastic exercise for increasing strength and stability in the muscles that extend up to your neck, but if there is too much weight or load used it could temporarily make your neck pain worse. Try decreasing the weight and increasing the repetitions to avoid straining too forcefully through the muscles of your neck and upper back. You could also use a resistance band if you have severe neck pain, a recent neck injury, or arthritis in your neck. This exercise can be beneficial as part of an exercise plan designed by a physical therapist but caution should be taken.

What to do instead:

Seated row machine. If your pain levels increase with lat pull-downs, a seated row machine can be an excellent alternative to lat pull-downs. It’s an exercise that strengthens your back and shoulders but doesn’t put as much pressure on your neck. This exercise uses some of the same muscles as lat pull-downs, so it can strengthen them without aggravating your neck arthritis or causing increased pain in this area. Try using the seated row as part of your exercise routine and progress to lat pull-downs as you can. If you’re not sure, ask your osteopath for guidance.

3. Overhead Press

If you have neck arthritis, overhead presses are probably not a great idea. In fact, overhead presses are one of the main exercises to avoid if you have neck arthritis.

The overhead press is a shoulder exercise that involves lifting dumbbells above your head. It’s done by placing your hands on the dumbbells and pressing them above your head while keeping your arms straight. This strenuous exercise can put pressure on the joints in the neck and shoulder area and cause further aggravation of symptoms.

Although, like all resistance exercises, the overhead press, when done gradually and safely, can be good, though we would rather certain patients avoid it if possible. Patients with inflammatory arthritis, cervical radiculopathy, or other severe neck arthritis are at particular risk of further aggravation. Some people with mild neck arthritis may be able to perform this exercise without pain, but if it causes pain or discomfort, it’s best to skip it altogether.

If you are going to perform an overhead press while suffering from pain in the neck, keep a neutral position throughout the exercise and concentrate on maintaining the proper form of exercise. End the exercise session with a gentle stretch and some flexibility exercises. You should be able to avoid any flaring of pain or even just the pesky day-after-morning stiffness.

What to do instead:

Dumbbell front raise. A front raise is a shoulder exercise that involves holding two dumbbells and raising them in front of you until they’re at chest level. The movement can put less pressure on the joints in the neck and shoulder area than the overhead press, so it’s a good alternative if you have neck arthritis. Be sure not to use weights or resistance that is too heavy, as this exercise still requires the neck muscles to contract and stabilise.

4. Sit-ups

Sit-ups are the traditional ‘go-to’ exercise to put in your daily routine to strengthen the core and abdominal muscles. Unfortunately, sit-ups can also cause neck strain and if you have arthritis are probably not a great idea. 

Sit-ups are safe for those who don’t experience any symptoms of neck or upper back pain. But if you have neck arthritis, consider other exercises that strengthen the abdominal muscles. And always remember, when doing a sit-up, never pull on the back of your neck! 

What to do instead:

Dead bug. The dead bug is a great alternative to help you build core strength and muscle tone. The Dead bug also has a heavy focus on stability through the core, lower back and pelvis. With less strain on the neck and more stability, the dead bug is a perfect exercise for osteoarthritis in the neck and lower back.

The dead bug is basically a plank with arms and legs—and it’s a great way to build your core strength while also improving balance and flexibility.

How Long Should I do These Exercises?

You should do these exercises for at least 6-8 weeks before you review them with you’re healthcare practitioner. Even if you don’t feel pain anymore these moderate-intensity exercises are a great way to strengthen the upper back and neck and decrease your risk of future pain. 

6-8 weeks may seem like a long time but the body needs time to adapt and strength. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Talk to your practitioner and get them to create an exercise plan that is right for you. A good exercise plan should meet your goals and not feel like a task. If you aren’t enjoying your exercises, we will always have a few tricks up our sleeves to help you out. 

But should I push through the pain if the exercises are going to help?
The short answer is no, you should never push through the pain. The key is finding a balance between pain and gain—it’s important not to overdo it at first so your body can adjust safely and gradually. If you don’t know where this balance may be, ask your practitioner for guidance. 

Neck Arthritis Pain Relief

If you’ve been suffering from neck arthritis pain, these exercises will help relieve pain in your neck muscles and stiffness in your joints. They will also help you regain a normal range of motion in your neck, which is important for daily activities like driving and reading. Unfortunately, not everyone who has arthritis in the neck will regain full range of movement, but you can expect to increase the range of motion in your neck as the muscles strengthen and can support the joints better.

You can do these exercises at home, inside the gym, or with the help of a healthcare professional. At MPR Health we have resistance bands available for purchase at reception so you can get started as soon as you get home.

Other Neck Exercises for Neck Pain

Neck pain can be debilitating, especially if you have to work while in pain. Many people avoid exercise because they worry it will aggravate their pain, but that doesn’t have to be the case. We strongly believe in creating a positive relationship between exercise and symptoms and never want patients to be scared to exercise.

You can also reduce tension and improve posture by strengthening your core muscles without causing neck pain. These strengthening exercises will help relieve some of the pressure on your neck and shoulders, which can help reduce the severity of muscle spasms and joint stiffness—the leading causes of neck pain.

Other Treatment Options for Neck Arthritis

Another treatment option for neck arthritis is osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). OMT is a manual therapy focusing on improving joint and muscle movement, strength, and posture. Osteopaths often treat pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders, especially due to arthritis.

Osteopaths will generally strive to progress you to an exercise plan with guidance and advice on improving posture. This exercise plan can help prevent further exacerbation of pain in your neck and, hopefully, decrease arthritis in your neck from worsening. If your neck arthritis is causing you significant pain and discomfort, getting treatment is essential. The earlier you treat your condition, the easier it will be to manage it successfully.

Conclusion

The best way to manage pain stemming from neck arthritis is to control your environment and improve the health of your neck and back. The exercise discussed in this blog should help you find a safe way to strengthen your neck while avoiding the fear of worsening your pain. If these strategies don’t work, consult a healthcare professional, such as an osteopath. Your practitioners can help you develop a treatment plan that works for your lifestyle and goals and offers the best possible outcome.

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4 Common Exercises to Avoid with Neck Arthritis

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