surf physio neck pain exercises

Neck Exercises For Surfers

As surfers we spend plenty of time on our boards with our head up looking to get that next wave or get out the back as quick as we can. 

If you’ve ever experienced neck pain then you’ll realise that it significantly limits your ability to look up ahead easily or to look over your shoulder when paddling into a wave. This is usually due to a loss of spinal mobility in your neck or middle back.

Poor spinal mobility in our neck and middle back can also be a risk factor for developing shoulder pain as the loss of mobility leads to poor biomechanics at the shoulder and overload of the muscles of the rotator cuff.

The relationship between the Neck and the Shoulder

Interestingly, a study by Lynch, Rosedale et al. 2018 48% of patients presenting with primary shoulder pain were actually referral pain from the neck! The study found that even in people with full range of movement at their neck, their symptoms and range of movement were improved in their shoulder when performing repeated neck exercises. So if you are experiencing neck and/or shoulder pain it is essential to perform the neck exercises to determine if your shoulder pain is being referred from your neck.


If you experience headaches frequently however you will need to perform the exercises slightly differently, performing longer duration holds 30 seconds -1 minute with the exercises.

Severe Headaches can also be due to other medical conditions. So if you’re unsure definitely go see your doctor first before starting the exercises and screen for any other reason that could be causing them.

Surfing Neck Exercises for Neck Pain

Lengthen the Back of Your Neck 

Looking straight ahead with eyes focused at the horizon and your chin parallel to the floor. Slowly draw your eyes back away from the point you are focused on.

Imagine you are trying to touch the back of your head to your car head rest. Common errors are to tilt the head backwards or to drop the chin down too low. So try to keep your eyes fixed on the ocean view or a piece of art in your home. Remember to keep your chin level with the floor. 
Repeat 5-6 times / Every 2-3 hours as necessary

If you experience neck pain, muscle stretching or joint stiffness with this exercise that is okay as long as you are no worse afterwards and that the pain you feel eases off within 10 minutes of ceasing the exercise.

Usually it is painful or uncomfortable for the first few days until your neck gets used to the movement and restores it’s full mobility.

Technique Tip: If you’re still having difficulty knowing whether you are doing it right use a mirror to give you feedback

Alternatively perform lying down on your back with a couple of pillows under your head, pushing the back of your head straight down into the pillows.

Once you have mastered the movement you can perform in standing next to a wall with a rolled up towel, foam roller or yoga block in between your middle back and the wall.

NECK EXERCISE 2                                                Restoring Full Neck Extension / Salute To The Sun

Start by drawing your head straight back exactly the same as you did when performing exercise 1. 
Most importantly make sure you draw back as far as you can, pause here for a second before then arch your head as far back as you can.
Note a point on the ceiling that you can see, each time see if you can go a little further..
 Repeat 5-6 times / Every 2-3 hours as necessary

The above exercises will help you to restore full neck mobility in your neck. This is essential for looking up ahead comfortably when surfing, or so you don’t develop a rounded hunched over posture when paddling. As a bonus you will find improve rotation mobility, reversing your car or looking over your shoulder becomes much easier!

Please note that when starting the exercises you may experience pain or discomfort at the base of your neck, referral pain across the top of your shoulder or in the middle back/shoulder blade area. 

This is normal and it means you are working the correct area. If you remain no worse afterwards then this is okay. However if you have worsening symptoms i.e. more arm pain, numbness, loss of grip strength or persistent tingling after doing the exercise then please stop and see a local physiotherapist or doctor in your area. As you continue to perform the exercise over 1-2 weeks you will start to see an improvement in you neck movement and a decrease in neck, shoulder, arm or shoulder blade pain.

Disclaimer: If you have experienced a trauma or you have worsening neck or arm pain please do not perform these exercises then please stop and see a local physiotherapist or doctor in your area.