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Physical Therapy for Stenosis of the Neck

Physical Therapy for Stenosis of the Neck

Spinal stenosis refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal, leading to pressure and pinching on the spinal cord and nerve roots. When this condition occurs in the neck, it’s called cervical spinal stenosis. While some simple home interventions can help reduce the symptoms of cervical stenosis by strengthening and stabilizing your neck, it is advisable that you seek out treatment with a physical therapist that is trained in treating this condition. Physical therapy can help to teach you how to stretch and strengthen the supporting muscles of your neck, improve your posture, and get your symptoms under control.

Physical Therapy Treatment Options

The stretches and strengthening exercises, as well as manual therapy recommended by the physical therapists at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation, can help to eliminate discomfort and restore mobility in your neck. Before recommending any exercise, your physical therapist will perform a thorough history and physical examination, including evaluating your posture, muscle strength, and range of motion.

Below we’ll discuss five common recommendations that your physical therapist may make to control your cervical stenosis symptoms.

Scalene Stretch

This exercise is instrumental in improving the range of movement in your neck. To perform this stretch, you will have to sit upright in a chair ensuring your back is straight, and our eyes are looking forward. You will have to tuck your chin a little toward your chest and turn your head to the left, to stretch the muscles on the right side of your neck. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat this stretch by turning your head to the right to stretch the muscles on the left side of your neck. Aim for 3 to 5 repetitions of this stretch on each side of your neck.

Shoulder Shrugs

Shoulder shrugs help to strengthen your upper back and neck, which helps to support your spine. To perform this stretch, begin with your hands to your sides and your back upright, and gently move your shoulders as high as you can. Hold this position for 1 to 3 seconds, and then slowly lower your shoulders. Aim for 10 to 15 repetitions of this stretch.

Axial Extension

Axial extension is effective for strengthening and restoring flexibility in your neck. To perform this exercise you will need to lie on a level surface on your back, and look directly toward the ceiling. Breathe deeply and push your chin down toward your chest, with your neck pressed down against the ground. Hold this position for 20 seconds, and then relax. Aim for 2 to 3 repetitions of this exercise.

Neck Traction

Neck traction is one of the popular techniques used by physical therapists to offer pain relief and enhance motion in patients with cervical stenosis. It involves slowly stretching out the neck, which allows the spaces that exist between cervical vertebrae to open and briefly lessen pressure on the affected intervertebral discs. Cervical traction can be performed continuously or intermittently, alternating between brief intervals of pulling and relaxing.

You can also perform neck traction from the comfort of your home. However, you will need to purchase pulley systems to secure to a doorway or invest in a device that will help you do neck traction while lying down on your back. However, it’s important to consult with your physical therapist before attempting cervical traction on your own. They will ensure that you have the right equipment and teach you how to safely perform this treatment at home.

Neck Pillows and Collars

Neck pillows are designed to immobilize your neck partially when you are sleeping. However, there is a research gap as far as the effectiveness of cervical pillows is concerned.  It is important to talk to your physical therapist before purchasing a neck pillow, to determine if investing in one is right for your needs.  

Soft neck collars aim to remind you to maintain good posture and use proper movements, as opposed to hard neck collars, which focus on stabilizing the neck. Again, it’s important to consult with your physical therapist to determine if a neck collar is suitable for your condition.


The symptoms of cervical stenosis can interfere with your ability to perform your normal activities. However, the good news is that stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as manual therapy performed by a trained physical therapist at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation can help to improve your cervical stenosis symptoms and get you back to enjoying a pain-free life.