Do you suffer from neck pain or a stiff neck?

Neck pain is often accompanied by shoulder pain and headaches. If neck pain is a frequent problem for you, it is not surprising that it can significantly impact your quality of life and day-to-day activities.

Whilst exercises may be the last thing you want to do whilst in pain, Pilates exercises for neck pain are designed to help alleviate and manage pain.

Clinical Pilates in particular, can help to improve and correct postural alignment, develop your core strength, flexibility and mobility around your shoulders, upper back and abdominals.

In this article, we go into greater detail around the causes of neck pain, the benefits of Pilates for neck pain and the exercises you can do to improve neck pain.

What are the causes of neck pain?

Neck pain or stiffness can be as a result of many reasons. Your neck is flexible and responsible for supporting the weight of your head meaning it is susceptible to injuries and conditions which could cause pain.

What’s more, as humans, we were designed to be upright and mobile. With many of us employed in desk jobs, we’re often seated for long periods of time which again, further contributes to muscle weakness and stiffness leading to increased stresses and strains on the muscles.

Causes of neck pain can include:

  • Poor postural alignment: this can cause your muscles to become unbalanced so change how your body naturally works.
  • Inactivity and muscle weakness: due to too many hours hunched over your computer or phone, sleeping with your neck in an uncomfortable position or simply not doing much exercise.
  • Nerve compression: as a result of prolapsed discs in the vertebrae of the neck which can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord. This often comes with feelings of weakness in your grip or tingling and numbness in your arm or hand. If this sounds familiar seek out a physiotherapist for help as you may just need some simple rehab.
  • Injuries: can often cause neck pain particularly when the muscles and ligament of the neck are forced outside of their normal range. If you have had an injury in a different part of your back and have started to get neck pain this is also not uncommon.
  • Eye problems: if you sit at a desk a lot and do not get regular eye tests, it is not uncommon to have neck pain. This is because as your eyes get tired you strain to look forwards at your screens and put increased pressure on your neck.
  • Heart attacks: recovering from a heart attack or surgery can often cause neck pain. This is commonly due to the surgery itself and can also be due to the medication required for care.

In many cases, you can treat neck pain with treatment such as physiotherapy or exercise to do at home, such as Pilates. If you are unsure why you are getting neck pain, the best place to start is with an assessment with a physiotherapist who can determine the cause for you and refer you to a consultant if necessary.

The benefits of Pilates for neck pain

Pilates for neck pain can be extremely beneficial in easing and preventing pains and stiffness.

One of the main benefits of Pilates for neck pain is helping to improve posture. Postural alignment and imbalances which can ultimately contribute to neck pain can be improved by strengthening the entire body, including the deep core muscles – the abdominals, back and pelvic floor.

Not only does the core strengthen and activate as a result of Pilates, Pilates is responsible for recruiting all of the body’s muscles during exercise. This includes the deeper stability muscles and bigger powerful muscles. It also looks at keeping your body and spine mobile. The combination of strength through full range of movement is the reason you get reduced aches and pains.

By working on enhancing strength, mobility, flexibility and stability, this in turn corrects muscular imbalances, postural alignment, awareness of how your body moves and consequently, improved movement in day to day activities.


Pilates exercises for neck pain

Below are four simple Pilates exercises you can do at home to help you manage or prevent neck pain.

1. Book openings

  1. Lay on your side with a pillow under your head. Make sure that your head is on the front of the pillow so that you are supported through your full movement.
  2. Bend your knees towards your chest until you feel your lower back is relaxed. The closer your knees go to your chest, the more comfortable you will find this in your lower back.
  3. Reach your hands out in front of you, keeping your hands palm to palm.
  4. Send the top hand to draw a circle over your head and out to the other side of the room. Use your exhale to help you relax into the position.
  5. You can take a few breaths into the side of your rib cage here to allow your mid back to relax a little more.
  6. On an inhale, continue the circle round to your hips and back to the other hand.
  7. Repeat as many times as you feel you need before turning to the other side.

Top tips:

  • to increase the stretch, try to keep your knees together and on the floor.
  • if you want to reduce the stretch in your shoulders, instead of making a circle, slide your hand across your chest and over to the other side, this will reduce the movement in your shoulder.

2. The Mermaid

  1. Start cross legged moving your legs into a Z shape cupping your bottom with your back leg and foot.
  2. Place your hand closest to the front leg on the floor.
  3. Lift your opposite arm towards the ceiling and reach over towards your front leg into side bend.
  4. Use the supporting arm and abdominals to push yourself back up to sitting.
  5. Repeat two to three times and on the next tip add in rotation.
  6. Try to reach underneath the supporting arm, allowing your rib cage to move.
  7. De-rotate yourself back to your side bend and repeat the twist 3-4 times before coming back up to sitting and switching to the other side. Remember to change the legs round before repeating on the other side.

Top tips:

  • if you struggle to sit in a Z sit, try sitting on blocks or in a chair. This will make it easier on your hips so allow you to move your back more.

3. Kneeling shoulder shrug

Kneeling shoulder shrug is the perfect exercise if you have a tight neck or your upper trapezius muscle is tight. We often think that we need to release the upper trapezius muscle – which feels great at the time but never lasts – however, a lot of the time this muscle is actually weak! Strengthening it is a great way to improve posture and upper body strength so reduce the strain on your neck.

  1. Start by kneeling and pressing your feet and shins into the floor to send your pubic bone forwards and create some stability around your pelvis.
  2. Hold onto a light weight, face your palm forwards and take your arms out to around 45 degrees.
  3. Shrug your shoulders up towards the top corners of the room, pause, then slowly lower your shoulders back down again.
  4. Repeat this 8-12x

If you struggle with migraines or tension related headaches, you may need to start with no weights. If you are seeing a physio for rehab, check with them first.

 3. Side lying weight bearing

Learning to weight-bear well will help strengthen your shoulders and your neck! This will help reduce your neck pain and improve your posture at the same time!

  1. Start on your side with your knees bent and on top of one another, slightly in front of you.
  2. Rest of your elbow and have your hand flat to the floor, fingers spread.
  3. Allow yourself to sag down before pressing your forearm into the floor. This will trigger your rib cage to lift and your shoulders to be less squashed. You can keep your bottom on the floor at this point.
  4. Hold for up to 30 seconds, trying to keep your neck in line with your spine before relaxing back down again.


  • to progress you can come into a mini side plank, staying on your knees and lifting your bottom up so that your body is in a straight line
  • try to progress the amount of time you are spending here. If you cannot get to 30 seconds, do not worry. Simply start with 5 seconds at a time and stop before you get any pains.

Why you should take up Pilates if you have neck pain

If you have neck pain, then Pilates could be the answer to improving and managing it. Especially if you are struggling to get back to your normal day to day activities, exercise programmes or your physiotherapy is just not getting you back to full function.

Here at Complete Pilates we offer both 1:1 Pilates sessions, online Pilates and group Pilates.

If you’re looking for a tailored solution, we’d always recommend opting for a 1:1 Pilates session in the first instance. We’ll understand what your current problems are as well as your goals for doing Pilates to develop a programme designed exactly around your needs.

Do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or contact us on 0203 764 5668 for further information.

Education is key:

These blogs are designed to give information to everyone, however, it is important to remember that everyone is different! If you have not seen one of our therapists and have any questions about injuries, what you have read or whether this may be useful to you, please just ask.

At Complete Pilates we would advise you to always speak to your doctor, physiotherapist, or clinical Pilates instructor here at Complete Pilates if you are worried about starting a new exercise regime.
We are more than happy to help anyone and point you in the right direction. Our biggest belief is that education is key. The more you understand about your injury, illness and movement, the more you are likely to improve.