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This information should not replace the advice of your doctor. If you have questions about exercises for back and neck pain, please consult your physician.

Exercise for neck pain and back pain is a complex thing. That’s because there are many different causes of neck pain and back pain. 

If your back and neck hurt, there’s often a reason. You may have poor posture, you may have strained a muscle making your neck or shoulder stiff and sore. You may have overdone it in your exercise program, or you may have a degenerative spine condition. 

Some exercises make some kinds of neck and back pain better but may aggravate another type. This is why it’s incredibly important to discuss exercises for upper back and neck pain before you begin. 

With all of this in mind, let’s discuss some of the best types of exercise for neck and back pain.

What are the worst exercises for back and neck pain?

As a general rule, and depending on the cause of your pain, any exercise that causes neck or back pain should be suspended until you talk to your doctor. Usually, low-impact activities are going to be better than high-impact exercises for neck and back pain. 

As we’ve said before on our blog, “While exercise is good for you and a good exercise regimen should be part of any lifestyle, strenuous exercise, or overexertion, can lead to back problems. It’s possible to strain, sprain, or even tear a muscle in your back.”

Here are some examples of exercises that may be hard on your neck and back.

Toe Touches

Bending to touch your toes isn’t always problematic, but 90-degree angles can sometimes aggravate lower back pain. Unless you have stretched your back muscles carefully over time, bending to touch your toes while standing may strain your muscles and put unnecessary stress on your spine. Later, we’ll suggest better stretching exercises for your back and neck.


Full sit-ups, from laying down to sitting fully up, can strain your back muscles and put stress on your discs as well. The International Sports Sciences Association says, “the position and movement of the body works against the natural curvature of the spine, and therefore can lead to low back discomfort, pain, and even injury.”

Lifting heavy weights

Any time you lift something heavy, you risk hurting your back. This is even true with weights in the gym! If you lift improperly, or before your muscles are ready to support the weight, you can cause pain and injury.

High-impact exercises

When it comes to exercise for neck pain and back pain, anything jarring can make things worse. From mountain biking to jogging, and from aerobics to jumping jacks, sudden movement can hurt. 

What are the best exercises for back and neck pain relief?

When starting any new exercise for neck and back pain, we recommend starting slowly. This will help you assess your pain and determine if the new activity might be making things worse. This is even consistent with physical therapy–your therapist won’t rush you into activity. 


Stretching exercises for upper back and neck pain can be a great place to start. Here’s a simple stretch for neck pain that you can do now (stop if you feel pain):

  • Start by looking straight ahead
  • Slowly move your head to the left-hand side, toward your left shoulder, turning your head gently.
  • Turn until you feel a stretch, but not farther than that
  • Hold this position for a few seconds
  • Then slowly return to the starting position
  • Repeat on the right-hand side.

These types of slow neck stretches can help with neck pain (or even tension headaches). Equally slow and controlled stretches, such as shrugging your shoulders, can help with upper back pain. Sitting exercises and stretches can replace those toe touches we cautioned about before.


Instead of sit-ups, try planks. Engaging your core muscles can help strengthen them without putting stress on your spine. 

Start laying down on your front. Then lift yourself onto your elbows (with your arms 90-degrees) and toes. Tighten your abdominal muscles and make your back as straight as possible. Hold that position as long as you can and then relax. 

Low impact exercises and activities

Like we said recently on our blog, “If your back pain makes it hard to run, jump, lift weights, or engage in more rigorous forms of exercise, you may want to consider low-impact exercises such as swimming, walking briskly, yoga, biking, rowing, and other similar activities.”

Yoga is one of the best low-impact exercises to assist with back and neck pain and to prevent it in the first place. As a mind-body therapeutic exercise, it has the advantage of reducing stress caused by pain as well as helping to alleviate pain. Practicing yoga daily is highly recommended.

Try these exercises for back and neck pain relief, and talk to your doctor. If you are in the Phoenix, AZ area, Dr. Baig would love to help. 

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