Neck Decompression Exercises

Does your neck feel tight, squashed or compressed?

The following Neck Decompression Exercises can help reduce the amount of pressure on the structures in the neck.

These exercise may help with the following conditions:


How to Decompress your Neck At Home

These DIY exercises are designed to be pain-free. Be gentle!

Contra-Indications: Cervical Fractures, Ligamentous Instability, Hypermobility, Osteoporosis, Cervical Fusion, Vascular Issues in the Neck.

(Note: If you have any doubts whether the following stretches will be suitable for you, please seek guidance from your Primary Care Provider before attempting them.)


Warning: DO NOT apply an excessive amount of pressure to your neck when performing the exercises as this may aggravate your symptoms! Start gentle and increase slowly as tolerated.

1. Side of Neck Decompression

lateral flexion neck stretch

Instructions:

  • Look slightly downwards.
  • Tilt your head away from the side that you would like to decompress.
  • Rotate your head slightly towards the side you are stretching.
  • Place your hand on the side of your head and apply a downwards pressure.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your neck.
  • Make sure that there is no pinching sensation in the neck as you pull your head downwards.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side. (If appropriate)

Note: If you would like to increase the amount of stretch, use the other hand to hold onto the under side of the chair as you lean your body away.

2. Back of Neck Decompression

back of neck decompression stretch

Instructions:

  • Nod your chin downwards.
  • Place your hand onto the front of your chin.
  • Push the chin towards the throat.
  • Place your other hand to the back of your head.
  • Pull downwards.
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the back of the neck,
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

3. Decompression with Towel

(This targets the back of the neck.)

manual traction with band

Instructions:

  • Loop a towel around the base of the skull.
  • Pull the towel in a upwards/forwards direction.
  • Tuck your chin down and inwards.
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the back of your neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

Note: You can also use a resistance band.

4. Neck Decompression with hands

Neck Decompression Exercises

Instructions:

  • Kneel in front of a chair.
  • Place both elbows onto the seat in front of you.
  • Place your palms under the sides of your jaw.
  • Keep your chin in a slightly nodded position.
  • Sink the weight of the head into your hands as you move your hips away from the table.
  • Do not allow your neck to extend backwards.
  • Keep your neck relaxed.
  • Aim to feel a pulling sensation in your neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

5. Self Neck traction (Lying down)

self neck traction

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Have your knees in a bent position.
  • Intertwine your fingers behind the base of the skull.
  • Pull your head forwards so that your chin moves towards your upper chest.
  • As you place your head back onto the floor, try to get the entire back of the neck flat onto the floor.
  • Apply pressure with your hands and pull your head away from the torso.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

6. Neck traction with Band

neck traction with band

Instructions:

  • Tie a thick resistance band to a stationary object. (Height: ~3-4 feet)
  • Lie on the floor with your knees bent.
  • Wrap the band under the base of the skull.
  • Whilst still holding the band with your hands, slowly shuffle your body away from the anchor point.
  • Let go and let the band pull your head.
  • Move as far away until you can feel a stretch at the back of your neck.
  • Completely relax.
  • Hold for 1 minute.

Note: Place a small towel between your head and the band to prevent your hair from being pulled.

7. Partner-Assisted Stretch

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Have your partner position their hands directly underneath your head.
  • (Their finger tips should be at the base of your skull.)
  • Keep your head/neck completely relaxed.
  • Have your partner firmly grasp your head and slowly pull your head away from the body.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

Note: You will need to guide your partner as to how much pulling pressure you can comfortably tolerate.

8. Anterior Neck Decompression

(The stretches the front of your neck.)

anterior neck decompression stretch

Instructions:

  • Lie down facing upwards on a bed.
  • Have your head off the side of the bed.
  • Allow the head to drop backwards.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the front of the neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

Note: Do not attempt this exercise if you have issues with your head being in the upside down position and/or are unable to tolerate hyperextending your neck backwards.

9. How can you decompress your neck whilst sleeping?

Neck decompression whilst sleeping

Instructions:

  • Lie down your back.
  • (You can use a pillow if required.)
  • Place your hands behind your head.
  • Pull your head forwards so that your chin moves towards the upper chest region.
  • Whilst maintaining the pull on your head, layer the back of your neck down (starting from the base of the neck) onto the pillow one level at a time.
  • Whilst keeping the head in position, shuffle your body slightly away from the head.
  • Relax.
  • Maintain this position as long as you can comfortably tolerate.

(Keep in mind – it is very likely that you will eventually move out of this position during your sleep. This is completely fine. Simply aim to remain in this position for as long as you can.)

10. Cervical Traction Devices

If you are more interested in a more intense stretch to your neck, the following devices can be used to decompress your neck.

Disclaimer: Please note that if you purchase a product from the links below, I will earn a small commission off the purchase (with no additional cost to you).


a) Neck Hammock

How it works: The mechanism of decompression is actually very similar to the exercise 6. Neck Traction with Band. The weight of the head sits in the neck hammock as the strap stretches the head away. (Read More…)

b) Inflatable Device

How it works: This device is placed around the neck. The device will then fill with air which will then push your head away from your torso. (Read More…)


11. Ideal Head Position

In my opinion – if your head is in a more ideal position, then there should theoretically be less compression in the neck.


a) Keep your neck TALL and ELONGATED

If you are like most people, you are probably not maintaining your head in the ideal position.

Most people will tend to allow their head to “sit” on their torso as opposed to held in a supported position.

Here are is a cue that will help you maintain a better head position:

“Imagine your head is a balloon that is floating away from your shoulders”

(It may sound strange… but it works!)

b) Maintain a slight gentle chin nod

ideal head position

Do not allow for your chin to poke forwards.

Keep your chin slightly closer towards your upper chest as this will help elongate the back of your neck.

Think of it like this way:

“Imagine gently holding a large apple between your chin and upper chest.” 

c) Address Forward Head Posture

forward head posture

If you have a compressed neck, I am willing to bet that you have a degree of Forward Head Posture.

This is where the head sits in a forward position relative to the torso.

This suboptimal position can cause over activity of the muscles which can lead to more compression in the neck.

Would you like to see a complete guide on how to fix this issue?

Check out this post: Forward Head Posture.


12. Surgical Intervention

If you have significant symptoms that have not improved after persisting with the Neck Decompression Exercises for at least 3-6 months, you may need to consider surgical treatment.

WARNING: If you are experiencing significant neurological symptoms (such as muscle wasting (Atrophy), inability to move your arms, poor bowel/bladder control and/or severe levels of pain), I strongly recommend that you see your Primary Care Provider as soon as possible!


Here is a list of the main decompression surgeries performed in the neck:

a) Laminectomy: Cutting away of the Lamina bone.

b) Discectomy: Cutting away of the disc.

c) Foraminotomy: Increase the size of the hole (foramina) as to which the nerves travel through.

d) Corpectomy: Removal of the vertebral body.

PLEASE READ: Surgery should rarely be the first thing to consider as there are multiple risks associated with it! I recommend that you try the Non-Surgical route (i.e. Exercises) first.


Common Questions

Do you have any other questions that you would like to ask me? Feel free to leave me a question in the comment section.

a) What does neck decompression do?

Neck Decompression creates more space between the cervical vertebra, alleviates pressure off the compressed structures in the neck and rehydrates the discs.

This can result in pain relief from pinched nerves, disc bulges, arthritic joints and tight muscles.

b) Is Decompression the same as Traction?

Yes – these words can generally be used interchangeably.

c) Why is my neck compressed?

In my opinion – the main cause of a compressed neck is bad posture. (namely Forward Head Posture!)

A sub-optimal position of your head can result in certain areas of the neck being compressed.

d) What does neck traction feel like?

You should feel a firm (but comfortable) pulling sensation in the neck region.

It should be completely pain-free.

e) How long should I decompress my neck for?

If you have not decompressed your neck before, I would start with 20-30 seconds.

If your neck can tolerate the stretch, gradually increase the duration of decompression in increments of 5-10 seconds and assess how your neck responds.

f) How often should you decompress your neck?

Perform the stretches 2-3 times per week.

g) Are there any side effects with the decompression exercises?

It is possible that your symptoms (eg. headaches, dizziness, pain, numbness) may be aggravated following a decompression.

This is due to the “recoil” of the tight structures after the decompression force has been removed.

(Think about this way: It is likened to the snapping back action that occurs when you let go of an overstretched rubber band.)

Generally speaking – the side effects with neck decompression are associated with applying too much pressure and/or stretching for too long.

Side effects can be minimized by:

  • Reducing the amount of traction being applied and
  • Holding the stretch position for shorter periods.

Conclusion

The exercises and devices listed on this blog post may help decompress the tight structures in the neck.

They can be used to address issues such as nerve impingements, disc bulges, osteoarthritis and tight muscles.

In the event that the neck decompression exercises fail to resolve your symptoms, it is recommended that you seek guidance from your Primary Care Provider to see if surgical intervention is appropriate in your situation. (…But please try to avoid surgery if possible!)


What to do next

1. Any questions?… (Leave me a comment down below.)

2. Come join me:

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3. Start doing the exercises!


Disclaimer: The content presented on this blog post is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Use of the content provided on this blog post is at your sole risk. For more informationMedical Disclaimer.

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