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  • Writer's pictureSam Kelokates

One Proven Exercise for Headache and Neck Pain Relief

Headaches and neck pain are prevalent complaints among adults, affecting daily life and productivity.

From tension headaches and cervicogenic headaches, which often arise from issues within the neck structures, to migraine that can incapacitate sufferers for hours or even days, the impact on quality of life can be significant.

In this blog, we explore how a daily shoulder exercise backed by scientific research can reduce headache frequency. This exercise is designed to strengthen the shoulder muscles, and ultimately help reduce the occurrence of headache and neck pain.

Whether you're suffering from chronic discomfort or looking to prevent future pain, this practical, research-based solutions can offer significant relief.


The Link Between Exercise and Headache Relief

Shoulder and neck tension are more than just uncomfortable, they can be the direct source of daily headaches and neck pain.

For many, these areas act as primary sources for stress and tension, whether from prolonged postures due to extended periods at a desk, or fatigue due to muscle weakness.

This tension can lead to a kind of pain feedback loop, where tightness in the neck muscles contributes to tension-type headaches or cervicogenic headaches (headaches that originate from cervical spine issues).

Biomechanically, the shoulder muscles support the neck and are integral to maintaining proper alignment and posture of the cervical spine. When these muscles are weak, the stability of the neck suffers, and the muscles there must work harder to compensate, often leading to increased strain and pain.

Conversely, strong shoulder muscles help distribute the physical stress more evenly, not only supporting the neck more effectively but also reducing the workload placed on the cervical muscles.

Strengthening these shoulder muscles can therefore have profound effects. By improving the structural support of the neck, enhanced shoulder strength helps to alleviate the direct pressures and strains that manifest as headaches.

Exercises designed to fortify these muscles don’t just enhance overall shoulder function—they can specifically target and reduce the frequency and intensity of headache and neck pain by stabilizing the cervical spine and reducing the need for compensatory muscle tightening.

Evidence-based Exercise for Headache Relief

In a Scandinavian study, researchers set out to determine the effects of targeted shoulder exercises on neck pain and the frequency of headaches among adults. This research helps to demonstrate that specific, easy-to-perform exercise can play an important role in headache management and reduction. [Link the study here]

Key Findings: The study's findings were interesting. Participants who engaged in daily shoulder exercise routine reported a significant decrease in both the frequency of headaches and the intensity of neck pain.

Participants in the study experienced a substantial decrease in headache frequency—43% in the 2-minute group and 56% in the 12-minute group.

These results highlight not only the effectiveness of the exercise but also the potential to improve quality of life for those suffering from chronic neck issues and associated headaches.

Study Overview: The study involved a diverse group of adults who reported frequent neck pain and headaches. The demographics included a wide age range, representing both genders, to ensure the findings were applicable to a broad population.

Participants were divided into two main exercise groups based on the intensity and duration of the exercise protocol:

  1. 2-Minute Group: Participants performed a the lateral shoulder raise using elastic resistance bands for two minutes each day.

  2. 12-Minute Group: This group engaged in a more intensive routine, completing 5-6 sets of 8-12 repetitions of the lateral shoulder raise exercise, totaling twelve minutes daily.

Both groups followed these routines five days a week over a ten-week period, allowing researchers to monitor and compare the effects over a substantial duration.

This research not only supports the effectiveness of one specific shoulder exercise in reducing pain and headache frequency, but also provides a replicable model for daily exercise routines that can be incorporated by individuals or recommended by healthcare professionals.

One Prove Exercise for Headache and Neck Pain Relief

Implementing simple but effective shoulder exercise into your daily routine can be transformative in managing and reducing headaches and neck pain. Here’s how you can get started with shoulder abductions using elastic tubing:

Exercise Set Up:

  1. Choose the Right Tubing: Select elastic tubing with a resistance level that matches your current strength. In the study, women started with red tubing, and men started with green tubing. Then after 2 weeks, participants increased to the next band resistance (green for women, blue for men).

  2. Secure the Tubing: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place the middle of the tubing securely under both feet to ensure it doesn’t slip during the exercise.

  3. Grip Correctly: Hold the ends of the tubing with your hands. Start with your arms by your sides, palms facing inward.

A male patient engages in a lateral shoulder raise exercise using resistance tubing in a contemporary home office environment. Dressed in athletic wear, he demonstrates proper form by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and lifting his arms to the sides. The modern office setting features a sleek desk and ergonomic chair, illuminated by ample natural light, highlighting a healthy, active lifestyle.

Performing the Exercise Here’s how to execute shoulder abductions properly:

  1. Start Position: Begin with your arms at your sides, gripping the handles.

  2. Movement: Slowly raise your arms out to the sides, keeping them slightly in front of you, until they are parallel to the floor. Ensure your elbows are slightly bent and not locked.

  3. Peak Position: Hold the position briefly when your arms reach shoulder height.

  4. Return: Lower your arms back to the starting position in a controlled manner, resisting the pull of the tubing.

Exercise Protocols: Two different protocols can cater to varying schedules and needs:

  • 2-Minute Quick Session: Ideal for busy individuals, this session requires you to perform as many repetitions as possible within two minutes. It’s a burst of activity meant to fit into any schedule, providing significant benefits without a huge time investment.

  • 12-Minute Comprehensive Routine: For those who can dedicate more time, this routine involves performing multiple sets of the exercise, totaling twelve minutes. Aim for 5 to 6 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions each. This deeper, more intensive routine allows for greater strengthening and endurance building.

Both routines are designed to be done five days a week, providing flexibility and effectiveness in managing pain and enhancing shoulder strength.

Implementing the Routine for Maximum Benefit and Ensuring Safety

Integrating shoulder abduction exercises into your daily routine can be a game-changer for managing and reducing neck pain and headaches. To maximize the benefits of these exercises, consider the following tips:

  • Timing and Frequency: Consistency is key. Aim to perform these exercises five days a week. Choose a time of day that you can consistently dedicate to this practice—whether it’s morning to energize your day or evening to relieve the day's tension.

  • Progression: Start with what feels doable; it might be the 2-minute session if you’re new or pressed for time, and then gradually increase to the 12-minute session as your strength and endurance improve. Gradually increasing the resistance of the tubing as you become more comfortable is essential for continual improvement and pain reduction.

Safety should always be a priority when starting any new exercise program. Here are essential safety tips to consider:

  • Personalization: Tailor the exercise intensity to suit your fitness level and pain threshold. What works for one person may not be suitable for another, especially when it comes to pain management.

  • Medical Consultation: It's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any new exercise routine, especially if you have existing health conditions or experience severe pain. This step ensures that your chosen exercises are safe and beneficial in relation to your specific health needs.

By following these guidelines, you can safely incorporate shoulder exercises into your daily routine, helping you gain strength and reduce pain effectively and safely. Remember, the goal is not only to perform the exercises but to make them a regular part of your life to continuously support your neck and shoulder health.


The benefits of incorporating a daily shoulder exercise into your routine are clear. This exercise is proven to provide headache and neck pain relief.

Backed by research, these targeted movements help strengthen the shoulders and alleviate stress on the neck, providing a practical approach to headache relief.

About Me:

Hi, my name is Sam Kelokates, PT, DPT. I am a physical therapist and owner of Kelos Physical Therapy, located in Philadelphia, PA. I specialize in the non-pharmacological management of headache and migraine disorders.


This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice or treatment. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider for personalized guidance and recommendations.

I may earn commissions for purchases made through the links in this post

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