Cure Your Neck Pain Without Drugs Or Surgery

Neck pain can be excruciating.
Neck pain can be excruciating.

Chronic Neck Pain -- Ouch!

I have some great neck pain exercises, including herniated disk exercises and even TMJ neck pain exercises which, if you do them religiously, will amaze you in their effectiveness. I'll get to them shortly. But first, a little background on my own story and how I came to discover this "Pain Free" program.

It started several years ago as the vague sensation in my neck that it needed "cracking". You know what I mean: the way a person's knuckles sometimes beg to be cracked, there's a sort of tension in the joints that can only be alleviated by manipulating them. It's why a trip to the chiropractor usually feels so good, the tension in your spine is released (the "crack" by the way is theorized to be the sudden release of nitrogen from surrounding fluids into the joint, via a process known as "cavitation.") Anyway, the bones in my neck felt as if they were out of alignment. I also felt tension building in my neck muscles. Turning my head to one side and stretching my neck in the opposite direction usually resulted in a satisfying "snap", and the tension would be relieved, things would seem to be pulled back into alignment. But as time went on, my neck seemed to require "cracking" more often, and the resulting release seemed to be less and less satisfying.

The tension grew into a burning pain which, finally, wouldn't go away. For awhile, it was at least tolerable. But since I work as a freelance writer, spending many hours at a computer and keyboard, it wasn't long before the pain began to affect my work (which, as it turns out, was exascerbating the pain; it was a vicious circle). I couldn't sleep at night. The only position I could twist myself into for any sort of relief was with my right arm pulled tight behind my neck. After awhile, even that didn't work.

I was becoming a walking zombie, and my writing had all but ceased. My wife begged me to see a doctor.

The Doctors Might Be Able To Help--Or Might Not

My doctor sent me to a specialist for an MRI, or magnetic resonance image, to take a picture of the inside of my neck. The MRI scanner was loud and frightening (you're put into a very tight tunnel-like space; a difficult time for people like me who suffer from claustrophobia!). But I managed to survive the ordeal without becoming completely unglued.

A few agonizing days later, I went to my doctor to hear the results. The doctor looked at me grimly. "There are seven vertebrae in your neck," she said to me, "separated from one another by doughnut-like cushions called disks. Six of your disks are herniated." The doctor went on to explain that, when the vertebrae are chronically out of alignment, the disks can bulge out of position between the vertebrae. Bulged discs are called "herniated." Herniated disks are dangerous--and extremely painful--when they press up against the spinal cord, which runs along channels through the vertebrae.

"You have a couple of options," the doctor said. "We can inject a nerve-block into your neck, which might relieve the pain. We'll have to do one of those every few months. They are, themselves, quite painful, and there is some risk to them."

"What's the other option?" I asked her.

"Surgery," she said. "We go in and take out the disks and fuse the vertebrae together." I knew a little about this procedure. It was dangerous--after all, the spinal cord was running through the vertebrae which would be fused! Additionally, since I would be losing most of the disks in my neck, I would have very little flexibility in my neck after the operation. I would also be shorter in height.

"There's one complicating factor," the doctor said. "You might not be able to find a surgeon willing to operate on so many vertebrae at one time. You could be looking at several operations over the next several years. And, of course, there's no guarantee all of this will work."

The doctor prescribed several medications for pain and sent me home to think about what I wanted to do. I was miserable, and depressed. And in pain.

A Third Option?

I went home and thought about my options, and decided that, doggone it, I wasn't going to mess with either the nerve block injections or the surgery. Call me stubborn. But what did that leave me? The option of living in excruciating pain for the rest of my life? It didn't take long to figure out that wasn't an option either. I was becoming frantic.

And then I remembered a book I had bought a few years earlier when I was suffering from low back pain. It was called Pain Free, and was written by a physical therapist by the name of Pete Egoscue (pronounced e-GOSS-cue). I remembered I had been amazed by the results--I was, indeed, pain free in my lower back after following his simple exercise plan for just a few weeks. But did the book address neck pain? And, more importantly, would his program work for neck pain caused by herniated disks?

I pulled the book from the shelf and dusted it off, then browsed through it for a couple of minutes. Then I ran into this passage:

"In the clinic, the basic treatment we use for stiff necks or neck pain releases the neck from flexion by reengaging the load-bearing joints and posture muscles. Do these [five exercises] in the order presented."

 

It seemed too simple. I didn't have just a stiff neck. What about neck pain from herniated disks? I kept looking. Sure enough, all I had to do was go back a few pages to confirm that, indeed, Mr. Egoscue intended his exercises to alleviate ALL neck pain--and yes, even pain associated with herniated disks:

"The forward flexion of the body, which starts primarily in the hips because we sit so much, reverses the cervical curve [of the neck] from convex to concave. This shift brings the head out of vertical alignment....The disks, meanwhile, are under great stress; the conditions are in place for a stiff neck, neck pain, and damage to the cervical disks."

 

I decided to give the routine a try. I certainly had nothing to lose. And if it didn't work, well, there was always the surgery....

Not An Easy Program

I'm going to cut to the chase here: I followed the program--consisting of five exercises straight from Pain Free, plus an additional three exercises my wife Jeanie found for me while looking through the Egoscue web site--for about sixteen weeks. The bottom line? It worked! My cervical curve, which had become flattened, forcing nearly all of my cervical disks to become herniated, returned to its natural curved shape. The disk herniation was relieved enough to completely eliminate pressure on the spinal cord. And my pain disappeared completely. No spinal nerve block injections. No neck surgery.

I'm tempted to cry Miracle, Miracle! here, but the truth, as I see it, is actually more a matter of common sense: as Pete Egoscue emphasizes time and time again in his book, bones follow muscles. Not the other way around. If you want to realign your bones (as in my case, my cervical vertebrae), the only way to do it is by moving your muscles first. The bones will follow every time. And that is the simple philosophy behind the Egoscue Method of exercise.

But before you rush out and buy the book, there are a couple of caveats (three, actually) you need to be aware of. The first is this: the program is hard. I'm not kidding. Very hard. The exercises, themselves, are simple enough, and are not difficult--if you are not in pain. But since you're likely to try this program because you are in pain, expect that it will hurt. A lot. You need to be prepared for that. The second caveat is: you'll need to devote time for the exercises on a consistent basis. The group of eight exercises I performed took me on average about 45-60 minutes per day, every day. You can't get around it: your body isn't going to straighten itself out on its own; you're going to have to be dedicated and diligent. And the third caveat: it's going to take time. Depending on your degree of flexion, it's quite possible this exercise program will take several weeks, even months to completely eliminate your pain. And you might as well know this right now: you'll probably need to follow a maintenance schedule of at least a couple of performances per week, for the rest of your life.

Too much pain? Too much work? I'm not going to judge, I promise. What it all boils down to is what you can commit to. If you don't have the time in your schedule, or you don't deal well with protracted pain--and don't mind losing flexibility in your neck and an inch or so in height--this program might not be for you. But if you want to eliminate your neck pain without surgery or drugs, then this just might be the ticket. And, likely, you'll be tempted to think you've discovered a miracle too.

That said: let's move on to the exercises. (As was previously stated, do these exercises in the order in which they are listed.) 

Static Back Exercise (Courtesy Pete Egoscue)
Static Back Exercise (Courtesy Pete Egoscue)

Static Back Exercise

This is a great exercise and requires very little effort. Lie on your back with both legs bent 90-degrees at the knee and resting on a block, as illustrated, or on a chair seat. I use a flat coffee table. You can place your hands on the floor, palm up, or rest them on your stomach. All you have to do from this point is let your back settle into the floor on its own, and breathe from your diaphram (belly breathing). Hold this for five to ten minutes. 

Gravity Drop Exercise (Courtesy Pete Egoscue)
Gravity Drop Exercise (Courtesy Pete Egoscue)

Gravity Drop Exercise

Wear tennis shoes (for traction), and stand on a stairstep as illustrated, with your heels off the step and hanging  midair. Keep your feet parallel with one another, pointed straight ahead, and shoulder-width apart. They should be more than halfway off the step. Keep your knees straight (not bent) and let your weight stretch the posterior muscles of your legs. Hold this position for three minutes. 

Static Wall Exercise (Courtesy Pete Egoscue)
Static Wall Exercise (Courtesy Pete Egoscue)

Static Wall Exercise

Lie on your back with your legs straight up against a wall as illustrated, hip-width apart. Get your butt as close to the wall as possible. Tighten your thighs, and point your toes back toward the floor (this will probably hurt a little). Try to keep your upper body relaxed. Hold this position for three to five minutes. 

Sitting Floor Exercise (Courtesy Pete Egoscue)
Sitting Floor Exercise (Courtesy Pete Egoscue)

Sitting Floor Exercise

Sit against a wall, as illustrated, with your legs straight out, hip-width apart. Press your butt and your shoulder blades as close to the wall as possible. Tighten your thighs and flex your feet, pointing your toes back toward you. Rest your hands on top of your thighs, palm up. Hold for four to six minutes. 

Frog Exercise (Courtesy Pete Egoscue)
Frog Exercise (Courtesy Pete Egoscue)

Frog Exercise

The final exercise is another of those "feel good" stretches, like the Static Back, that you don't want to get up from. Lie on your back, as illustrated, with your feet pulled toward your torso and the soles of your feet together. Let your knees turn out, but make sure your feet are centered in the middle of your body. Relax into a comfortable stretch in the inner thighs and groin muscles. Hold for one minute. 

More Exercises on Pete's Website

There is a small bonus-routine of three exercises you can find on Pete Egoscue's website. Click on the neck pain link in the panel on the left, and follow the on-screen instructions.

Suffer from TMJ? Pete has a routine of eight exercises just for temporomandibular joint disorder, requiring just fifteen minutes each morning. You can get details on Pete's web site, or in the book, Pain Free, Chapter 11. 

In fact, do yourself a favor, and buy the book, Pain Free. It's cheap, compared to the alternative. And you'll learn a lot about human anatomy you probably never knew. Then give the exercise routine a shot for a couple of weeks. If you're diligent and follow the instructions correctly, you should begin to see improvement, a lessening of the pain. Maybe it will be enough to convince you that you can heal your neck pain without surgery or drugs. It was for me.

Comments 27 comments

kims3003 6 years ago

very helpful article with lots of great suggestions and information. Nice writing style too.


Vicariously Yours profile image

Vicariously Yours 6 years ago from Fort Collins, CO Author

Thank you! It's been several months since I wrote this, and I'm still working the program, still pain-free. Glad I could be of service in passing along the information. Cheers.


Loop 6 years ago

I've had major problems with my entire spinal cord, first my lower back and then my neck. After 5 years of pain I've actually managed to fix my lower back. Like the author, I hate going to the doctor so hence the long time to recover. But I can't find any solution for my neck, I've tried almost anything, it feels as if my neck muscles are being torn apart on the left side. I've had a stiff neck for over a year now! This will be my final try and if it doesn't work I guess I'll be forced to go to the doctor. If it works I'll definetely come back here and thank you.


Vicariously Yours profile image

Vicariously Yours 6 years ago from Fort Collins, CO Author

Thanks for the comment, and good luck. (I have a suspicion I'll be hearing from you again...this routine is, for anyone willing to put forth the effort, nothing short of miraculous). Cheers.


Loop 6 years ago

Okay, I wasn't expecting to comment so soon but here it goes. I've tried everything on my neck, triggerpoint massage, trapezius stretches, ice packs (lots of it) pills, pills and more pills. Absolutely nothing worked. I straightened out my lower back which gave me back some mobility but the same treatment didn't work for my upper back and neck. I did the exercises above today and for the first time I actually notice less pain! I'm not gonna cheer too soon because I've fallen for that one before...but this feels like the real deal. Who knew stretching my calves like that would do the trick? Certainly not me and I don't know anyone who does, including professional people. I'll keep at it and I'll comment again when the pain is completely gone, if it ever will be. Fingers crossed.

Thank you for bringing hope back into my life!


Vicariously Yours profile image

Vicariously Yours 6 years ago from Fort Collins, CO Author

Glad to hear it. Keep at it!


GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

I came close to surgery - glad I didn't. Very difficult. I had my right arm completely numb. Excellent article with practical advise.

I shout for proper posture - it is so important. I am sad when I see young athletic people with poor posture which I call Einstein's hunch - I love Einstein but don't need the pain from poor posture.

Wonderful article that everyone with neck pain needs to read. Voted up and useful - wish we had a must read.

One exercise, I recommend as a personal trainer is backward arm circles - this helps the shoulders and tends to combat the forward lean we tend to do with too many laptops, personal computers, personal data devices and now of recent that smart phone.


acaetnna profile image

acaetnna 4 years ago from Guildford

Superb information. I will definitely bookmark this article - thank you.


Thomas Messier 4 years ago

Hi, I just ran into this post and thought perhaps you'd be able to answer a question/doubt I have. During the 16 weeks you did the ecises before bing pain free, did you stop all other activities that were causing you pain? I just bought Pain Free at Your PC and have started the program, but am in doubt if I will get results if I do them without interrupting my work which requires me to be at the PC for 8 hours a day. What was your experience like? Any feedback is appreciated, thanks in advance!


Bill 4 years ago

Boy, that was quite awhile ago, but as I recall, I, too, was spending several hours a day at the PC. I don't think it matters, as the idea is to give your body a break (at least for awhile) to begin stretching the muscles (remember, the bones follow the muscles!). So, the short answer is, no, I didn't, and the program still worked beautifully. Hope that helps. And good luck.


florence 4 years ago

I discovered this website yesterday, tried the exercises, and experienced some immediate relief from a pinched nerve that I've had for five months. Did you do the exercises more than once per day? Is it okay to do them more than once? Several times? Any recommendation?


Bill 4 years ago

Pete Egoscue makes no recommendation on the subject, other than to say that a workout of about an hour each day should be sufficient. Which I take to mean that, if you feel comfortable doing these exercises more than once a day, have at it. Yes, I did do the exercises more than once on several occasions, with no bad effects. However, I'm certainly not the expert that Pete is. Got to www.egoscue.com and browse around a little. You'll likely get a more definitive answer.

PS...Glad you found some relief. Cheers.


florence 4 years ago

The reason I asked this question is when you add up the amount of time you've suggest for each exercise, it only adds up to about 25 minutes while you recommend about an hour.

Another question. When you say that it's hard work and you experienced pain with the process, did you experience pain in other parts of your body as it readjusted to the new posture? Just wondering because that's what I am finding.


Daniel 4 years ago

For the first time, the numbness has turned to a burning feeling when waking up. The same as when you're out in the cold exposed and you come in and your skin warms up quickly. I guess that's what you had before doing this, and constantly. I need to be serious in doing this. Last chance before surgery. I had the same question as Thomas here. I can't stop working and I'm at a desk 8-10 hours per day. Let's hope it does great for me too, even in still working. Thanks for sharing. Everyone else, if you have success please let us know!


Vicariously Yours profile image

Vicariously Yours 4 years ago from Fort Collins, CO Author

Florence...actually, I think it was Pete who suggested the hour-long workout, although I personally can't come up with that length of time, even when adding the three bonus exercises described above. But when I do come out on the longer end, it's because I've spent more time in the static back exercise. His book has a larger complement of general health exercises; perhaps he was alluding to that.

And, yes, it's entirely possible you will experience some pain in other parts of your body as the overall skeleton adjusts to its new positions. Obviously, if that pain persists more than a couple of weeks, I would advise discontinuing the exercises and have a visit with our doctor to see what it's all about.


Vicariously Yours profile image

Vicariously Yours 4 years ago from Fort Collins, CO Author

No, I can't say as I discontinued anything...the pain was so generalized that there wasn't any single activity I could pin it on. As for working at your PC, I can see how that might be a problem...I did my exercises in the evenings just before going to bed, as that was the only time I could fit them in. I could still watch a little TV from the floor, or listen to some pleasant music. I guess what I'm saying is that, if you're serious enough about doing the program, you'll make the time for it, even if it means having to interrupt your normal schedule to do that. Recall that the other option is surgery, and you certainly won't be in a position to sit at a PC for eight hours after having come under the knife. Consider that.


Vicariously Yours profile image

Vicariously Yours 4 years ago from Fort Collins, CO Author

Daniel...hope my reply to Thomas above helps...some options: work out a schedule with your employer to allow a break for some of the exercises...you can break them up into two or three smaller sessions if you need to; if you're serious enough about this, you'll certainly be able to find SOME time to get on your back or stand on some stairs or lean against a wall. Just do it. It isn't a perfect world...adapt the routine to fit your schedule and split it up as much as you need...and one or two minutes is certainly better than none at all...might take you a little longer is all.


Scott 3 years ago

Thank you for the article. It appears that the three bonus neck pain excercises are no longer available on the Egoscue site. Could you please post these or send an alternate link? Also, is it acceptable to use a pillow under the head for the floor excercises shown above? Lastly, do you use the neck pain excercises for twice a week maintenance or the excercises Egoscue lists in the back of his book "Pain Free"?


Vicariously Yours profile image

Vicariously Yours 3 years ago from Fort Collins, CO Author

Scott...I wrote this article four years ago, and unfortunately, did not save my notes on the bonus exercises. Sorry. You might give one of the clinics a call and ask if they can help you discover them. Re the pillow: I'm thinking that using a pillow to begin a routine is certainly acceptable, as long as the back of your head is not raised above the floor. Recall that one of the tests for proper neck posture is to stand up straight with your back against a wall and notice if you can do so with the back of your head also touching the wall. The more comfortably you can do so, the better your cervical spine alignment and balance, and the less pain you are likely to experience. I used the exercises as outlined above, because my neck was the primary source of my pain. As long as I did these exercises 3-4 times a week, I was pain free. Hope that helps.


fzraomcmle 3 years ago

I’d have got to talk with you here. Which is not some thing It’s my job to do! I enjoy reading a post that can get people to believe. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!


qeana profile image

qeana 2 years ago

I sit at work a lot so I use these exercises to prevent neck pain http://exercises4neck.com


Dan Trinh 2 years ago

Dear Sir,

I found this page because I was looking for answer to my neck pain. I read a lot about Egoscue. You mentioned that you did 5 e-cises from the book Pain Free. Also, you wife found 3 other E-cise for you, but you forgot the names of those E-cise. Can you describe the 3 extra E-cises for me, so I can practice at home myself? Your help is greatly appreciated.


Sujata 2 years ago

Thank you and bless you for this article. I have been suffering from neck and shoulder pain for ages, but recently it got so bad I prayed desperately for relief, and I believe God sent your blog my way. I read this three days ago and immediately started the exercises and ordered the book which came today. My pain is already alleviated. If anyone has suffered from neck pain they will know it is the worst kind and any relief brings such joy! I am also learning to reverse my forward bend position and rounded shoulders.


Johne666 2 years ago

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Amar 2 years ago

Go to youtube/ search for Egoscue for Neck Pain/ There is a lot of information.


M. Umer Aziz 19 months ago

I cured my neck pain with this easily, within a week


SR 3 months ago

The 3 extra exercises:

Quad Contractions:

1. Stand with your feet pointed straight ahead with heels, hips and shoulders touching a wall.

2. In this position, squeeze & release your thigh muscles while keeping your feet straight and stomach muscles relaxed.

3. Repeat 50 times.

Forward Bend:

1. Stand with your feet pointing straight and place your palms on your low back/upper buttocks area.

2. Tilt your pelvis forward to place an exaggerated arch in your low back while pulling your elbows & shoulder blades together behind you.

3. Keeping the elbows back, begin bending forward from the hips. Do NOT bend from your low back.

4. Keep the low back arched as your bend over, stopping where you can maintain the arch.

5. Tighten your thighs to lock your knees straight, & move your body weight to the balls of your feet.

6. Hold this position for 1 minute.

Glut Contractions:

1. Stand with your feet pointed straight ahead.

2. Squeeze and release your buttocks (gluteal) muscles together. Do NOT contract your stomach or thigh muscles with the gluteal contractions.

3. If too difficult to find the gluteal muscles independently, point your feet out 45-degrees (duck-footed) first and then return to straight after you've isolated them.

4. Squeeze & release 50 times (in each position if necessary).

5. Be sure to relax upper body, stomach and thighs.

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