Pain from a pinched nerve in the neck can make people reluctant to exercise. However, staying still can worsen pain by causing tension and wasting in nearby muscles.

A person with a pinched nerve in the neck may experience tingling, numbness, or weakness in their neck, shoulders, hands, or arms. Pinched nerves often appear with age or due to arthritis or wear and tear on the spine.

The following exercises may help relieve the pain and discomfort of a pinched nerve in the neck:

Side bends help reduce neck and back tension while building strength. To do a side bend:

  • Stand with the hands clasped over the head.
  • Keep the neck and head straight.
  • Lean slowly from the core to the right and then the left without letting the body bend forward or arch backward.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Sitting in the same position for long periods, especially with crossed legs, can damage the nerves and muscles. Instead, take frequent walking breaks.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends setting alarms every 30 minutes of sitting as a reminder to get up and walk around.

Keep the head in a neutral position to get the most out of walking and help ease a pinched nerve. The ears should be level with the shoulders, and the jaw should be loose, not clenched.

Moving the shoulders can help reduce tension in the neck. It can also alleviate the headaches that some people get with pinched nerves and muscle tightness.

To exercise the shoulders:

  • Shrug the shoulders slowly up and down for 30 seconds.
  • Rest for a few seconds.
  • Next, roll the shoulders forward and up toward the ears, then back down and back, pushing the shoulder blades together.
  • Repeat this move for 30 seconds, then reverse the direction.

Yoga involves the slow movement of the body through a wide range of positions while focusing on engaging each muscle group. This practice is an ideal low impact option for people dealing with pain.

Child’s Pose, in particular, can be helpful for people with a pinched nerve in the neck. To do Child’s Pose:

  • Start by sitting on the heels on a mat, with the tops of the feet flat on the floor.
  • Learn the body forward until it meets the thighs.
  • Extend the arms straight out above the head, with the hands flat on the floor.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

Some people find that performing twists can relieve muscle tension and nerve-related numbness. To do a twist:

  • Sit in a comfortable chair with the feet flat on the floor and the back straight.
  • Put the right hand on the left knee while slowly twisting to the left.
  • Hold the stretch for 5 seconds and then return to facing forward.
  • Repeat on the other side, placing the left hand on the right knee.

A thoracic extension can help to stretch the upper back. To do this stretch:

  • Sit in a neutral position in a chair with a backrest.
  • Place the hands on the back of the head.
  • Arch the chest backward against the backrest.
  • Hold the stretch and repeat.

Head turns can restore range of motion, but they may feel difficult at first. To do a head turn:

  • Sit or stand in a neutral position, then turn the face to one side to look over the shoulder.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Return the head to its neutral position.
  • Turn it again, this time to the other side.
  • Repeat 10 times.

The median nerve runs from the shoulder down to the hand. To relieve pain and numbness, a person can try doing a median nerve slider:

  • Begin in a neutral sitting position.
  • Position the palm in front of the face and look at the hand.
  • Next, extend the arm to the side so that the fingertips point toward the ceiling and the wrist is below the shoulders.
  • Follow the hand with the eyes.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

This exercise can also relieve the symptoms of a pinched nerve. To do it:

  • Stand in a neutral position.
  • Put the palms together in a “praying” position, pointing the fingers up.
  • Lift the elbows and lower the wrists so the lower arms are almost parallel to the floor.
  • Push the elbows as far to the right as possible, then as far to the left as possible.
  • Repeat 10 times.

The ulnar nerve goes from the neck to the hand. It is the nerve responsible for a person feeling pain in the “funny bone.” To use ulnar nerve towel sliders to relieve pinched nerve symptoms, a person can:

  • Hold one end of a towel in the hand on the side of the pinched nerve, placing it near the head.
  • Let the rest of the towel drop behind the back and grab it with the other hand near the lower back.
  • Pull the towel upward with the top hand as far as it will go.
  • Pull it back down with the bottom hand.
  • Do not hold the stretch at the top or bottom, but keep the arms moving for 30 seconds.

A pinched nerve may heal on its own. However, if it does not improve with rest and gentle stretching at home, a person can see a doctor for treatment.

Treatment usually focuses on reducing pain and preventing secondary injuries. In addition to exercises and physical therapy, a doctor may recommend:

  • a collar to immobilize the neck
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
  • cold therapy with ice packs
  • massage therapy
  • surgery, in rare cases

Below are some frequently asked questions about a pinched nerve in the neck.

Is it possible to stretch out a pinched nerve in the neck?

Gently stretching or exercising may help to improve the range of motion and pain in people with a pinched nerve in the neck. However, straining, extending, or turning the neck may increase pain in some people.

What activities should someone with a pinched nerve in the neck avoid?

Rest is typically the best option to manage and treat a pinched nerve in the neck.

People may need to avoid activities that worsen pain and other symptoms, such as anything that involves lifting heavy weights or physical contact.

Many injuries and illnesses can cause pain, numbness, and weakness. Anyone experiencing chronic numbness or pain in the neck should speak to a doctor before trying exercises for a pinched nerve.

For many people, an individualized physical therapy plan offers quick results and significant improvements in strength and mobility.

However, doctors may recommend other treatment options if pain does not improve over time.