Cervical Retraction Neck Exercise

Cervical retraction may be a good addition to your home exercise program if you have spinal arthritis, or if you need to strengthen your neck muscles. It is also good for stretching or loosening the muscles at the back of your neck.

If you have a neck condition, or radiculopathy, which causes pain or other symptoms going down the arm, or if you're just unsure of what you should do or how you should do it—be sure to ask your healthcare provider or physical therapist for direction before trying the following.

Woman rubbing sore neck
Sam Edwards / Getty Images


To start, review the neck exercise for forward head posture. This is preparatory work that will likely give you an experience of exactly what to do—without loading your joints while you are learning the movement. Although this part of the exercise probably won’t feel like much of a workout, it will help you find the correct action of the head as it moves on your neck.

Once you are successful at gently and accurately moving your head in alignment with your neck, it will be time to work with cervical retraction as a full exercise.

Most of the time, cervical retraction is done while sitting nice and tall on your chair. You can also stand, but standing is more complicated for the body to coordinate than sitting. Because doing the cervical retraction movement well takes focus, it's better to do the exercise in a sitting position.

Doing the Retraction From the Prone Position

With that said, it's also possible to perform the cervical retraction from the prone (stomach-lying) position. Place your forehead on the surface you are lying on, with your arms straight down by your sides. Don't lock your elbows—keep them relaxed.

When you bring your head back, keep the movement small. Lift just your forehead up, keeping your chin slightly tucked.

Don't kink at the neck. Rather, your head should be an extension of your spine. Review the instructions below to get more specific about the direction in which you should move your head.

Instructions for Cervical Retraction While Sitting (or Standing)

Assume your chosen start position, whether it is sitting or lying prone. Gently tuck your chin down toward your neck. Don't jam your chin in, though. We are after alignment here, not a maximal position.

Keeping your chin where it is, press your head back. Remember, this is a diagonal direction; it's as though you are moving your head both backwards and up toward the ceiling. Feel the stretch at the back of your neck. Relax and repeat.

You might try doing the cervical retraction 8-10 times, performing 3-4 sessions a day.

Technique Points for Pain Management

It's important to be mindful of any pain resulting from cervical retraction. If you have cervical spondylosis (neck arthritis) stop before your movement causes any pain.

Other Neck Exercises

Another good neck-strengthening exercise is the isometric neck press. With this strengthener, you'll move your head forward, backward, and to each side while providing resistance with your hand.

Don’t forget to include the range-of-motion exercises in your neck program. This develops flexibility and is especially important to do if you have arthritis in this area.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. North American Spine Society. Cervical exercise: the backbone of spine treatment.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Could your neck pain actually be neck arthritis?

  3. Harvard Medical School Harvard Health Publishing. Neck pain: core exercises can help.

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.