Strengthening The Neck’s Core

Neck pain is becoming more and more prevalent, particularly in those who are involved in daily sedentary tasks. It has become so widespread that approximately 70% of individuals will experience neck pain within some point in their lifetime.

When speaking about strengthening our body’s “core”, people immediately picture copious amounts of abdominal training to help with strengthening the low back. However the neck’s equivalent to this; involves a duo of muscles known as Longus Capitis and Longus Colli, which when functioning together, form the “deep neck flexors” (DNFs) within the neck.



When functioning correctly, they act in similar fashion to the “core” muscles in the back, in that they stabilise the cervical spine (neck) in various positions especially against the effects of gravity. Research has also shown that activation of this pair helps to slightly flatten the cervical curve which opens up the posterior aspect of the cervical facet joints.

A key article in the developmental concepts of deep neck flexors; examined the activity of the neck’s “core” and other associated muscles in participants with and without neck pain. The article by Jull and associates (2002), found that participants who complained of chronic neck pain or had whiplash associated pain, demonstrated higher Sternocleidomastoid muscle activity and reduced strength, endurance and activation of the DNFs.  The link between the dysfunctional DNFs and cervical pain is a resultant of the forward head position which is accentuated. This allows for areas in the neck including the joints, discs, muscles or ligaments to become overloaded and cause pain.


Knowing that dysfunctional activation, strength and endurance of the deep neck flexors leads to an increased risk of cervical or neck disorders, strengthening is vital either in the form of treatment or prevention.

Exercise 1:

Lying on your back with a towel rolled under your head/neck. Gently draw your chin towards the floor, performing a slight nod of your head. Avoid lifting your head off the ground.

  • Hold for 10s
  • Repeat 10 – 15 times
  • Twice Daily

Exercise 2:

A progression of Exercise 1, gently tuck your chin towards your floor and whilst holding the position, rotate your neck from left to right

  • Rotate 10 times per side with hold
  • Twice Daily

Exercise 3:

Progressing to a functional position similar to when pain occurs

  • Sitting for office workers
  • All 4s/Bent over for cyclists or weight lifters

Gentle draw your chin towards your adams apple, whilst keeping your neck straight.

  • Hold for 10s
  • Repeat 10 – 15 times
  • Twice Daily

*Progressions of this can incorporate upper limb or lower limb movements or low grade strengthening around other postural muscles including the shoulder retractors (single arm rows/shoulder blade squeezes), whilst holding the ideal neck position.




Strengthening of these muscles has shown to improve their function and assist in reducing neck pain and the incidences of future neck dysfunctions. However, strengthening of the deep neck flexors are not only limited to sedentary workers who suffer from neck pain, but they are also highly useful as a preventative exercise for athletes, particularly those performing in sustained positions, such as cyclists.





By William Chin


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