Can Hiking Cause Neck Pain? 4 Quick Fixes For Neck Pain Relief On The Trail

Can Hiking Cause Neck Pain -
Though hiking offers mental and physical benefits, the strain of carrying heavy packs, maintaining poor posture, and looking down for prolonged periods can lead to neck discomfort or injury. To prevent hiking-related neck pain, choose a well-fitted lightweight backpack, stretch and strengthen neck muscles, take regular breaks, maintain proper posture, stay hydrated, and seek medical advice for persistent pain. With awareness and preventive care, neck pain can be avoided, allowing hikers to fully enjoy nature’s splendor.

A refreshing breath of forest air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, and the rewarding view from the peak – hiking is an adventure that stimulates all senses. While the thrill of conquering trails is well-known to many, an under-discussed aspect of this popular activity might be causing discomfort for some: neck pain. Can Hiking Cause Neck Pain? It sounds unusual, doesn’t it?

Yes, hiking can definitely cause neck pain due to the repetitive motions and strain placed on the neck while trekking for long distances. Here are some of the main reasons hiking may lead to neck aches or discomfort:

  • Head Position: Hikers often have their heads tilted down to watch the trail, which strains the neck over time. Looking up frequently to enjoy views adds further strain.
  • Backpack Weight: Carrying a heavy backpack places force on the upper back and shoulders, which can radiate into the neck. Improperly fitted backpacks also contribute to muscle fatigue.
  • Shouldering Pack: Shifting a backpack from side to side strains the neck’s smaller muscles. Hikers may hike for miles with a pack on one shoulder before switching.
  • Arm Swinging: The motion of pumping arms while hiking engages the neck and shoulder muscles, especially when carrying trekking poles, which adds weight.
  • Steep Inclines: Hiking uphill requires extra exertion that can tense the neck and upper back muscles when breathing heavily.
  • Falls and Injury: Falls or trauma from slipping on the trail can sprain ligaments and cause direct injury to the neck.
  • Sleeping Surface: Camping and sleeping on the hard ground can leave hikers waking up with a sore, stiff neck.

To prevent hiking-related neck pain, focus on proper posture, take regular rest breaks, do neck stretches, keep packs light, and sleep with adequate support. Consulting a physical therapist can also help identify and correct any biomechanical inefficiencies in your hike motion. Listen to warning pains and ease up on mileage to avoid chronic neck issues. With some preventive care, you can hit the trail pain-free!

This article is a comprehensive guide to help you comprehend the unexpected correlation between hiking and neck pain. It seeks to illuminate the underlying causes and offers practical measures to prevent such discomfort. With real-world examples, insights from medical professionals, and research-backed data, we’ll explore this underrepresented side of hiking and equip you with the knowledge to make your future hikes more comfortable.

Table of Contents

Understanding Neck Pain

Before delving into the potential causes of neck pain during hiking, it’s important to understand the basics of neck and pain itself.

The Anatomy of the Neck

The neck, the cervical spine, comprises a sophisticated structure consisting of seven vertebrae. The neck’s main purpose is to support the head, allowing us to rotate it in various directions. However, this natural flexibility also makes it prone to pain and injuries.

The neck has many different muscles, including the trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, and splenius. These muscles collaborate to enable us to rotate our heads from side to side, tilt our heads sideways, and nod up and down.

Here you can see a 3-D “rotate and zoom” view of Head & Neck Bones.

Neck pain

Neck pain refers to discomfort, soreness, or pain in the cervical region of the spine and surrounding muscles. It is a common condition that most hikers experience at some point in their lives.

Some key points about neck pain:

  • Location: Pain may be localized in one neck area or more generalized. It can also radiate into the shoulders, upper back, or arms.
  • Symptoms: Symptoms include muscle tightness and spasms, stiffness, throbbing, tenderness, numbness or weakness in arms/hands, headache, and reduced mobility or range of motion. Pain levels range from mild to severe.
  • Risk Factors: Older age, previous neck injury, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, and jobs requiring heavy lifting or driving for long periods increase risk.
  • Diagnosis: Doctors diagnose the cause of neck pain based on a physical exam, medical history, description of symptoms, and tests like x-ray, MRIs, or CT scans if needed.
  • Treatment: Over-the-counter pain medication, ice/heat, massage, stretching, physical therapy, posture correction, and stress management can help relieve discomfort. Severe or chronic neck pain may require prescription medication, steroid injections, or surgery.

While neck pain is common, ongoing severe or progressive pain should be evaluated by a doctor to identify and properly treat any underlying medical condition. Most neck aches and stiffness cases resolve with appropriate treatment within days or weeks.

Understanding Neck Pain While Hiking: The Biomechanics Behind It

Understanding Neck Pain from Hiking -

Hiking involves walking on various terrains, often with an added weight from a backpack. This activity engages our legs, core, and upper body muscles. While there is often a strong focus on the lower body, it is essential to recognize that the muscles in the upper body, including the neck, also play a significant role in maintaining stability and balance. As a result, the repetitive motion and strain placed on these muscles during hiking can contribute to neck pain.

Additionally, how we pack and carry our backpacks can influence neck pain. A heavy or improperly fitted backpack can pull on the shoulders and cause neck and upper back muscle tension. Distributing the weight evenly and adjusting the straps is essential to ensure a comfortable and balanced load.

What effects of hikes on my neck?

Hiking can have both positive and negative effects on your neck, depending on several factors:

Positive effects:

  • Strengthening: Hiking engages the core and upper body muscles to stabilize your neck and head. It can strengthen neck muscles when done properly.
  • Posture: Hiking with a properly fitted backpack helps align your spine and strengthen postural muscles, including the neck.
  • Reduced tension: Being outdoors and away from desks/screens can relieve neck tension.
  • Increased range of motion: Looking around at views and scanning the trail enhances neck mobility.

Negative effects:

  • Strain: Looking down at the trail and improper backpack fit lead to overuse and strain of neck muscles.
  • Tightness: Repetitive motions like turning the head to scan views can create muscle tightness.
  • Injury: Falls on the trail, sleeping on hard ground, or whiplash from hiking with a pack on one shoulder can directly injure the neck.
  • Spasms: Dehydration from hiking can cause painful neck spasms and cramps post-hike.

To maximize benefits and prevent injury, focus on posture, take frequent rest breaks, stretch the neck often, hydrate, and sleep with neck support. Stopping when you feel pain is key to avoiding chronic issues. A neck strengthening routine can also offset hiking strain.

Can Hiking Cause Neck Pain? Real-Life Experiences

To bring this issue to life, let’s consider the story of Maria, a seasoned hiker from Colorado. Maria often went on long, multi-day hikes carrying heavy backpacks. Over time, she began experiencing persistent neck pain after each hike. A visit to her chiropractor revealed that the cause was a combination of carrying heavy loads and maintaining improper posture during her hikes.

Like Maria, many hikers experience similar discomfort. According to a survey by the American Chiropractic Association, approximately 71% of hikers reported experiencing neck or back pain. This finding suggests that the connection between hiking and neck pain is not just theoretical but also experienced in practical situations.

Related articles: 

Medical Research And Studies Regarding "Hiking And Neck Pain"

Medical Research And Studies Regarding Hiking And Neck Pain -

Here are the summaries of research studies on hiking, backpack use, and its potential link to neck pain.

 “Backpack weight and musculoskeletal symptoms in secondary school students: A longitudinal study” (Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, 2019)

This study investigated the impact of carrying heavy backpacks on secondary school students, examining potential musculoskeletal issues. The research revealed a significant correlation between heavy backpack use and neck and shoulder pain. These findings provide valuable insight into how carrying a heavy hiking backpack could contribute to neck discomfort in adults.

“The effect of backpacks on the lumbar spine in children: A standing magnetic resonance imaging study” (Spine, 2007)

Although primarily focused on children, this study indicated that carrying a backpack could change the curvature of the spine and potentially increase the risk of discomfort or injury, including in the neck area. It underlines the importance of proper weight distribution in backpacks during activities like hiking.

“Effects of Backpack Load and Position on Body Strains in Male Hikers During Level Walking” (Journal of Human Kinetics, 2017)

This study emphasized that the load and position of a backpack significantly influence body strains during level walking. Hikers with improperly positioned or overloaded backpacks showed greater discomfort and strain, including in the neck area.

“Load carriage and the evolution of bipedalism” (Journal of Human Evolution, 2010)

While primarily exploring the evolution of bipedalism, this study also explored the biomechanical effects of carrying loads on the body. It highlighted that carrying weight on the back could stress the cervical vertebrae, potentially causing neck pain – a factor of potential concern for hikers.

“Neck Pain: Clinical Practice Guidelines Linked to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health from the Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association” (Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 2008)

This study provided clinical guidelines for addressing neck pain. It linked carrying heavy loads and poor posture, common in hiking, to neck discomfort. The guidelines suggest an integrated approach to management, including maintaining proper posture and strengthening neck muscles, which could benefit hikers experiencing neck pain.

medical Expert Opinions ─The Connection Between Hiking And Neck Pain

medical Expert Opinions ─The Connection Between Hiking And Neck Pain -

Dr. Chris Daprato, Physiotherapist

“Hiking requires an integrated use of muscles, including the neck. The weight of a backpack, if not properly distributed, can put undue pressure on the neck muscles, leading to discomfort or pain. Proper posture and a well-adjusted backpack can help prevent this.”

Dr. Julia Johnson, Orthopedic Surgeon

“Repetitive stress on the neck, which can occur during strenuous activities like hiking, especially while carrying a heavy backpack, can lead to persistent neck pain. In such cases, it’s essential to seek professional help.”

Dr. Robert Martinez, Chiropractor

“Many hikers neglect their neck posture during hiking, focusing more on their legs and feet. However, maintaining a neutral spine, including the neck, is crucial. A forward-leaning position, often adopted when wearing a backpack, could lead to what we call ‘text neck’ syndrome in the long run.”

Dr. Samantha Stuart, Physical Therapist

“The neck’s position during a hike, especially when carrying a load, is crucial. Overarching or constant downward gaze strains the neck muscles and cervical spine. It’s essential to do neck exercises and stretches before and after the hike to maintain flexibility and strength.”

Dr. Edward Collins, Sports Medicine Specialist

“Hiking is a whole-body exercise. While we often pay attention to the lower body, neck pain can emerge from poor hiking posture and backpack misuse. Proper equipment use and regular conditioning exercises for the neck and upper body can help mitigate this.”

Can Hiking Cause Neck Pain ─ Well-Known Hikers Opinions

Can Hiking Cause Neck Pain ─ Well-Known Hikers Opinions-

Cheryl Strayed

Author of “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”

“One of the first things I learned on the trail was the importance of a well-adjusted pack. An ill-fitted backpack can wreak havoc on your neck and shoulders. It’s vital to ensure your load sits well on your hips and the straps are comfortable on your shoulders.”

Andrew Skurka

Long-distance hiker and adventurer

“Neck discomfort can sneak up on you on the trail, especially after a long day of carrying a heavy load. Regular neck stretches and maintaining good posture, even when you’re tired, can help manage and prevent neck pain.”

Jennifer Pharr Davis

Record-setting long-distance hiker

“As someone who has spent many consecutive days on the trail, I know that repetitive strain, like constantly looking down at the trail or carrying a heavy backpack, can lead to neck pain. Listen to your body and give it the rest and care it needs.”

Heather Anderson

long-distance hiker and National Geographic Adventurer of the Year

“A lot of hikers, myself included, have experienced neck pain due to carrying heavy backpacks. Learning to distribute the weight and taking breaks to stretch and relax the muscles can help alleviate and prevent discomfort.”

Carrot Quinn

Long-distance hiker, and author

“Neck pain during hiking isn’t talked about as much as foot or leg pain, but it’s a real issue. I’ve found that doing some neck-strengthening exercises off-trail and being mindful of my posture when I’m hiking has helped me deal with neck strain.”

Causes Of Neck Pain When Hiking ─ backpacking is the topmost

Possible Factors That Can cause Neck Pain While Hiking-

While hiking is not a direct cause of neck pain, certain factors commonly associated with it can contribute to discomfort. Awareness of these factors is crucial to prevent or minimize neck pain during hiking. Some common contributors to neck pain while hiking includes:

Carrying a heavy backpack

Carrying an excessively heavy backpack or wearing one that is not properly fitted can strain the muscles and spine of the neck, resulting in neck pain. When you carry a heavy backpack, the weight of the pack can pull your shoulders down and cause your neck to bend forward, which can strain the muscles in your neck.

Every extra pound adds stress to your body, including your neck muscles. It’s important to evaluate your gear and pack only the essentials to avoid unnecessary strain and potential neck pain.

Poor Backpack Fitting

An improperly adjusted backpack can lead to imbalanced weight distribution, causing strain on the neck and shoulder muscles.

Poor posture

Poor posture while hiking can cause strain on the neck muscles, leading to neck pain. When the head is held too far forward, the weight of the head can cause strain on the neck muscles and lead to pain.

Overuse or strain

Neck pain during hiking can also be caused by overusing or straining the neck muscles. It can occur when hiking for prolonged durations without taking breaks to stretch and rest the neck muscles.


Dehydration can cause muscle cramps and stiffness, leading to neck pain during hiking. When dehydrated, your muscles are more prone to cramping and stiffness, leading to neck pain and discomfort.

Wearing improper hiking gear

Wearing gear that doesn’t fit properly or is not appropriate for the terrain can cause strain on the neck muscles. Wearing footwear that lacks sufficient support can force the body to compensate, resulting in improper posture and placing strain on the neck muscles.

Heavy helmet

While helmets are not typically worn during most hiking activities, they are necessary in certain scenarios, such as mountaineering or rock climbing. If the helmet is heavy and improperly fitted, it can strain the neck muscles and cause discomfort or pain.

Improper footwear

Wearing improper or ill-fitting footwear while hiking can affect your overall posture and walking gait, which can put additional stress on your neck and result in pain over time.

Inappropriate clothing

Tight or restrictive clothing can limit your movement and subtly alter your posture, potentially putting extra stress on your neck and leading to discomfort.

Looking down for extended periods

Hiking often requires navigating uneven terrain, so you might spend significant time looking down the trail. This sustained posture can strain your neck muscles, causing what is sometimes referred to as “text neck.”

Lack of conditioning

Weak neck and upper body muscles may not support the weight and movement demands of hiking, leading to muscle fatigue and pain.

Sudden movements or falls

Unexpected falls or sudden, abrupt movements during a hike can lead to neck sprains or strains. To prevent such occurrences, it is crucial to exercise caution and maintain awareness of your surroundings while hiking. Additionally, taking extra care when traversing rugged or uneven terrain is important to minimize the risk of neck injuries.

Stress and tension

Physical stress from hiking, along with mental stress, can cause muscles to tighten up, resulting in neck pain. To prevent this, engaging in stress-reducing activities, such as meditation or yoga, is important both before and after hiking.

Sleeping position

Uncomfortable sleeping positions during multi-day hikes can cause or exacerbate neck pain. Choosing a comfortable sleeping pad and pillow that adequately supports your neck and head while sleeping is important to prevent this.

Previous neck injuries or chronic conditions

If you have a history of neck injuries or pre-existing conditions like arthritis, hiking can potentially worsen these issues and cause pain. To minimize such risks, it is essential to consult with your healthcare provider before undertaking a hiking trip. They can offer valuable advice and suggest suitable precautions to prevent further injury or the progression of existing conditions.

Muscle Fatigue and Weakness

Prolonged hiking or tackling challenging trails can lead to muscle fatigue and weakness, including the muscles supporting the neck. When these muscles become tired, they are more susceptible to strain and injury. Therefore, individuals who are not accustomed to regular physical activity or those who push their limits on hikes may experience neck pain.

Lack of Warm-Up and Stretching

Skipping a proper warm-up and stretching routine before hitting the trail is a common mistake that contributes to neck pain. Preparing the body for physical activity helps to increase blood flow, loosen up muscles, and improve flexibility. Neglecting these warm-up exercises can leave the neck muscles tight and prone to discomfort during hiking.

Does a heavy backpack and poor posture affect the range of motion?

Carrying a heavy backpack during a backpacking trip can lead to back and neck pain if the pack isn’t properly adjusted. The backpack’s weight can pull on your shoulders and neck, causing strain. Hikers should aim to carry no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

Properly fitted shoulder straps that keep the pack close to your body and transfer weight directly to your hips are key. A pack that sits too low can aggravate lower back pain, while one that sits too high can cause pain in the neck and shoulders.

Looking down frequently to avoid obstacles can also lead to neck strain. Sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag can also misalign the upper cervical spine and restrict the range of motion. Rotated neck muscles after sleeping can cause stiffness and pain.

Prevent back and neck pain by properly adjusting your pack, keeping your head aligned above your shoulders, and doing neck stretches. If you already have back and neck pain from carrying around your pack and sleeping on the ground, see a doctor to realign your spine and restore a normal range of motion to get back out on the trail pain-free.

possible causes of hiking neck pain

Heavy backpackCarrying a heavy backpack strains neck and shoulder muscles
Improper backpack fitIll-fitting backpack causes imbalanced weight distribution and neck strain
Poor postureHead tilting down or forward strains neck muscles
Overuse/strainHiking long distances without rest strains neck muscles
DehydrationCan cause muscle cramps and stiffness in neck
Improper gearGear that doesn’t fit right can alter posture and strain neck
Heavy helmetImproperly fitted heavy helmet strains neck muscles
Improper footwearCan affect posture and put stress on neck over time
Restrictive clothingCan alter posture and put extra stress on neck
Looking downStraining neck muscles from constantly looking at trail
Lack of conditioningWeak neck/upper body can’t support hiking demands
Falls/injuryUnexpected trauma can directly injure neck
Stress/tensionCan cause neck muscle tightness
Sleeping positionUncomfortable sleeping strains neck during multi-day hikes
Previous injuryCan exacerbate existing neck injuries or conditions
Muscle fatigueProlonged hiking tires neck muscles, increasing strain
Lack of warm-upSkipping warm-up leads to tight neck muscles prone to discomfort

Tips To Prevent Stiffness or Neck Pain During Hiking

Tips To Prevent Severe Neck Pain During Hiking -

To prevent neck pain while hiking, here are some valuable tips to consider:

Choose the Right Backpack

Opt for a backpack that fits properly and has adjustable straps to distribute weight evenly. Ensure most of the load rests on your hips rather than your shoulders, reducing strain on your neck muscles.

Pack Light

Minimize the backpack weight by packing only essential items. Evaluate the necessity of each item and consider alternatives to bulky or heavy gear. A lighter backpack reduces the strain on your neck and minimizes the risk of discomfort.

Maintain Proper Posture

Pay attention to your posture while hiking. Keep your spine neutral, avoid leaning forward excessively, and engage your core muscles. Aim to look straight ahead rather than constantly looking down at the trail, which can strain your neck.

Take Frequent Breaks

Incorporate regular breaks into your hiking routine. During these breaks, stretch your neck and upper body, allowing your muscles to relax and relieve tension. It’s an opportunity to adjust your backpack, reposition your shoulders, and reset your posture.

Do Neck-Strengthening Exercises

Prioritize neck-strengthening exercises as part of your overall fitness routine. Strengthening your neck, upper back, and shoulder muscles can improve your endurance and resilience to strain. Consult a fitness professional or physical therapist for appropriate exercises.

Stay Hydrated

Maintain proper hydration throughout your hike. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramps and increase the risk of neck pain. Carry an adequate water supply and drink regularly to keep your muscles and body hydrated.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Before starting your hike, perform a warm-up routine with gentle stretches for your neck, shoulders, and upper back. It prepares your muscles for the physical demands of hiking. After your hike, cool down with more stretches to promote muscle recovery.

Consider Trekking Poles

Utilizing trekking poles can aid in distributing the load and minimizing the strain on your neck and upper body. They provide stability, aid in maintaining balance, and offer additional support while hiking on challenging terrains.

It is important to remember that every individual’s body and hiking experience is unique. Therefore, listening to your body, starting with gradual hikes and progressively increasing the intensity and duration over time, is crucial. If you encounter persistent or severe neck pain, seeking guidance from a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and appropriate guidance is advisable.

tips to prevent neck pain while hiking

Choose proper backpackGet a well-fitted pack with adjustable straps to distribute weight evenly
Pack lightOnly pack essentials to minimize weight and strain on neck
Maintain postureKeep spine neutral, avoid leaning forward, keep head up
Take breaksTake regular breaks to stretch neck and upper body
Neck exercisesDo stretches and exercises to strengthen neck muscles
Stay hydratedDrink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and muscle cramps
Warm up & cool downDo light stretches before and after hike to prepare and recover muscles
Trekking polesCan help distribute weight and minimize strain on neck
Listen to your bodyGo at your own pace and stop if you feel pain
Seek medical adviceSee a doctor if pain persists to address underlying issue
Posture & body mechanicsKeep good posture and engage core muscles to support back
Pack weight distributionDistribute weight evenly and adjust straps for good fit
Take rest breaksRest and stretch neck and shoulders during hike to relieve tension

How to relieve neck pain when hiking

Understanding Neck Pain -

Another helpful strategy is incorporating neck-strengthening exercises into your routine. Strong neck muscles can better withstand the strain of carrying a backpack and dealing with the physical demands of hiking.

A 2018 Journal of Physical Therapy Science study highlighted that specific neck strengthening exercises can significantly reduce neck pain. Exercises such as neck tilts, rotations, and stretches can strengthen your neck muscles and improve your resilience to strain.

Here are some exercises to strengthen neck muscles for hiking:

Resistance band exercises

Attach a resistance band to a stationary object and loop it around your forehead. Push your forehead forward against the band, then back against the band. Repeat ten times.

Neck rotations

  • Sit or stand with good posture. Keep your shoulders relaxed and down.
  • Slowly turn your head to the right, bringing your chin towards your shoulder as far as feels comfortable. Don’t force it.
  • Hold this gentle stretch for 5-10 seconds.
  • Turn your head back to center and repeat on the left side, bringing your chin to your left shoulder.
  • Complete 5-10 rotations to each side. Move slowly and smoothly.
  • Make small circles with your chin to stretch the back of your neck. Do this clockwise and counter-clockwise.
  • You can place one hand gently on the side of your head to guide the movement, but don’t push too hard.
  • Start with smaller rotations and work up to larger circles as your neck muscles relax.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply as you rotate. Don’t hold your breath.
  • Stop if you feel sudden sharp pain. Neck stretches should feel good.
  • After your rotations, relax your neck and gently roll your shoulders.

Repeat these neck stretches a few times daily to keep your neck loose and limber. Just a few minutes of rotations can make a big difference in preventing stiffness.

Neck tilts

  1. Sit upright or stand with good posture, keeping your shoulders down and back.
  2. Slowly tilt your head toward your right shoulder, bringing your ear down toward the shoulder without forcing it.
  3. Hold this gentle stretch for 5-10 seconds. You should feel a stretch on the left side of your neck.
  4. Tilt your head back to center, facing straight ahead.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side, tilting your head down toward your left shoulder. Hold for 5-10 seconds and feel the stretch in your right neck muscles.
  6. Continue alternating side to side, completing 5-10 reps on each side.
  7. Make sure you are moving your neck slowly and smoothly. Don’t jerk or bounce.
  8. Start with smaller tilts and work your way to deeper stretches as your neck muscles warm up and relax.
  9. Remember to breathe deeply as you tilt your neck from side to side. Don’t hold your breath.
  10. You can place a hand gently on the side of your head for support if needed. But avoid pushing too hard.
  11. Stop if you feel any sudden or sharp pain.

Aim to do these neck tilts daily to improve flexibility and range of motion. They can help relieve tension and prevent stiffness from developing.

Shoulder shrugs

Here are instructions for performing shoulder shrugs to strengthen the neck and upper back:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Keep your arms relaxed at your sides.
  2. Engage your core by pulling your navel in towards your spine. Keep your spine straight.
  3. Exhale and slowly raise your shoulders toward your ears, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  4. Hold the contraction at the top for 2 seconds.
  5. Inhale and slowly lower your shoulders back down, releasing the contraction.
  6. Repeat for 10-15 reps. Do 2-3 sets.
  7. Focus on controlled, smooth movements. Do not jerk your shoulders up or down.
  8. Keep your arms relaxed at your sides. Avoid lifting your arms out to the sides as you shrug.
  9. Hold your head straight throughout the exercise. Do not tilt it forward or back.
  10. Breathe out as you raise your shoulders, and breathe in as you lower them.
  11. Start with less range of motion and work your way to bigger shrugs as your muscles strengthen.
  12. You can hold light hand weights for added resistance. But don’t use heavy weights that compromise form.

Aim to do shoulder shrugs 2-3 times weekly to build strength in your neck, traps, and upper back. It can improve posture and help relieve neck tension.

Pro Tips:

Keep your head facing straight forward as you walk, but only move your eyes to scan the path ahead. Your nose can stay pointing straight while your eyes gaze downward at the trail. Take 15-30 seconds every 10-15 minutes to hike this way and give the small muscles in your neck a mini-break from constantly looking down.

DIY Method:  Whenever your neck and upper back start to feel tired from miles of trekking, stop for a moment and gently roll your hiking pole across the back of your neck and the tops of your shoulders, being careful not to press too hard. Then use the pole to massage the sides of your neck in an upward motion. This self-neck massage takes just a minute but releases tension in those overworked muscles.

What to Do if You Experience Neck Pain After Hiking

Rest and Recovery

If you experience neck pain after hiking, the first step is to rest and recover. Ice or heat application can also provide relief.

Seeking Medical Advice

If the pain persists, seek medical advice. A healthcare professional can diagnose the issue and suggest appropriate treatment.

Strengthening Exercises

Incorporating neck and upper body strengthening exercises into your fitness routine can help prevent neck pain while hiking. Exercises such as neck stretches, shoulder shrugs, and chin tucks can improve muscle endurance and stability. Consulting with a physical therapist or fitness professional can provide personalized exercises tailored to your needs.

Proper Posture and Body Mechanics

Maintaining good posture during hiking is crucial for reducing neck pain. Keep your head aligned with your spine, avoid slouching, and be mindful of your body mechanics. Engage your core muscles to support your back and maintain an upright position. Regularly checking your posture throughout the hike can help prevent unnecessary strain on your neck.

Pack Light and Distribute Weight

Packing smart and keeping your backpack as light as possible is essential for preventing neck pain. Evaluate the items you bring and prioritize the essentials. Distribute the weight evenly in your backpack and adjust the straps to fit properly. A well-balanced load reduces the strain on your neck and shoulders.

Take Breaks and Stretch

During long hikes, taking regular breaks to rest and stretch is crucial. Use these breaks to stretch the neck and shoulder to release tension and maintain flexibility. Gentle movements such as neck rotations, shoulder rolls, and side stretches can help alleviate discomfort and prevent further pain.

exercises to strengthen neck and relieve neck pain

Resistance bandAttach a band to a stationary object, push forehead forward and back against resistance
Neck rotationsRotate head slowly side to side, hold stretches 5-10 seconds, repeat 5-10 times
Neck tiltsTilt head sideways to each shoulder, hold stretch 5-10 seconds, repeat 5-10 times
Shoulder shrugsRaise shoulders up toward ears, hold 2 seconds, lower down slowly, repeat 10-15 times
Chin tucksDraw chin straight back, aligning ears over shoulders, hold 5 seconds, repeat 10 times
Wall angelsLean back against wall, keep neck and head on wall, slowly raise arms up and down
IsometricsApply gentle pressure with hand against forehead, resist by flexing neck muscles
Upper back stretchInterlace fingers behind back, push palms out, hold stretch 15-30 seconds
Chest stretchesClasp hands behind back, push chest forward, hold 15-30 seconds
Doorway stretchPlace forearm against doorframe, lean body away, hold 15-30 seconds

When to Seek Medical Help: Don't Ignore Persistent Pain

If you experience persistent neck pain after hiking, seeking medical help is crucial. Chronic neck pain could indicate underlying issues such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.

A top-rated orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Julia Johnson, says, “Continuous pain or stiffness in the neck that doesn’t improve with rest and over-the-counter pain relievers should be evaluated by a medical professional.”

FAQs About "can hiking cause neck pain?"

Why does my neck hurt after a hike?

Your neck may hurt after a hike due to strain from carrying a heavy backpack. The weight of the pack can pull on the neck and shoulder muscles, causing pain. Looking down frequently to avoid obstacles can also lead to neck strain. Sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag can misalign the upper cervical spine and restrict the range of motion, leading to stiff, sore neck muscles.

Is hiking bad for your neck?

Hiking itself is not necessarily bad for your neck if you take precautions to protect it. Carrying a heavy pack improperly, failing to stretch the neck, and sleeping in poor positions can strain the neck over time. Properly fitting and loading your backpack, stretching the neck regularly, and sleeping on adequate neck support can help prevent hiking from causing neck pain.

How do I protect my neck when hiking?

Protect your neck when hiking by choosing a well-fitted backpack with hip straps to transfer weight from the shoulders. Take regular breaks to stretch the neck muscles. Maintain proper posture by keeping your head balanced above your shoulders. Bring adequate neck support for sleeping. Consider visiting an upper cervical chiropractor before extended trips to ensure proper spinal alignment.

How long does neck pain last after exercise?

Neck pain after exercise usually goes away within a few days as the strained muscles heal. Severe neck muscle strains can take up to 2 weeks to fully recover. See a doctor if pain persists beyond 2 weeks, as longer-lasting pain may indicate an underlying condition requiring treatment.

What exercises should you avoid with neck problems?

Avoid exercises like heavy shoulder presses, chin-ups, heavy squats, and deadlifts if you have existing neck problems. Opt for low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, and gentle yoga until the neck recovers. Check with a physical therapist to learn safe exercises for your condition.

Why does my neck hurt backpacking?

Your neck may hurt from backpacking due to carrying a heavy, poorly fitted pack pulling on the muscles. Straining your neck frequently while looking down at the trail can also cause pain. Sleeping on the ground without adequate neck support can misalign the cervical spine. Adjust your pack straps, sleep with a pillow, and take frequent neck stretches to prevent pain.

What happens to your body if you hike every day?

Hiking every day tones your leg, glute, and core muscles. It also improves heart health, lowers blood pressure, and boosts energy levels. Make sure to take rest days 2-3 times per week and gradually increase mileage to avoid overuse injuries like stress fractures. Rotate different trails to build balanced strength.

How do you heal neck pain fast?

Applying ice packs for 15 minutes a few times a day can help reduce inflammation that causes neck pain. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can also provide relief. Try gentle neck stretches and exercises to keep the muscles flexible. Use an orthopedic pillow to maintain proper neck alignment at night. If pain persists over 2 weeks, see your doctor.

What is a pinched nerve in the neck?

A pinched nerve in the neck is when a herniated disc or bone spurs from cervical osteoarthritis compresses one of the nerves exiting the cervical spine. This typically causes pain, numbness, or tingling down the arm on the affected side. Pinched nerves often improve with rest, physical therapy, medications, and spinal injections. Surgery may be needed for severe cases.

Why do I keep waking up with neck pain?

Waking up with neck pain can be caused by sleeping in an awkward position that strains the neck, having an unsupportive pillow, or having an underlying condition like arthritis or a cervical disc herniation. Try sleeping with a supportive pillow that keeps your neck aligned. Improve mattress posture and consider physical therapy exercises to prevent nighttime neck pain.


In conclusion, while hiking offers numerous benefits for physical and mental well-being, it’s important to be aware of the potential for neck pain. The strain caused by heavy backpacks, poor posture, and prolonged periods of looking down can take a toll on your neck muscles and lead to discomfort. By implementing preventive measures, such as choosing the right backpack, maintaining proper posture, doing neck-strengthening exercises, and taking regular breaks, you can significantly reduce the risk of neck pain during hiking.

Remember, your neck is a crucial part of your body’s support system, and taking care of it is essential for an enjoyable hiking experience. Listen to your body, respect its limits, and make conscious choices that prioritize your neck’s well-being. By integrating these recommendations into your hiking regimen, you can fully embrace the splendor of nature while preventing neck pain. Therefore, seize your backpack, don your hiking boots, and embark on your upcoming adventure confidently, equipped with the understanding and resources to safeguard your neck. By implementing these precautions, you can ensure that every hiking experience is enjoyable and pain-free.



Sarah has been hiking for over five years and is passionate about promoting the mental and emotional benefits of spending time in nature. She has written several articles on the topic and strongly advocates hiking as a form of therapy. Sarah is also a certified yoga instructor, often incorporating yoga and mindfulness practices into her hiking trips. She is dedicated to providing accurate and up-to-date information on trail conditions, difficulty levels, and must-see sights.



Sarah has been hiking for over five years and is passionate about promoting the mental and emotional benefits of spending time in nature. She has written several articles on the topic and strongly advocates hiking as a form of therapy. Sarah is also a certified yoga instructor, often incorporating yoga and mindfulness practices into her hiking trips. She is dedicated to providing accurate and up-to-date information on trail conditions, difficulty levels, and must-see sights.

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