Are You Doing These Common Neck Exercises The Wrong Way?
If you have neck pain and you’re wondering what neck pain exercises and neck stretches to do, READ ON.
There are several goals or reasons to perform neck exercises and neck stretches. We will break these down into four main categories, which are posture, stretch, strengthening, and coordination.
Let’s talk about your POSTURE.
The biggest culprit in this category is the forward head carriage. If you look around a crowded airport, bus stop, train station, or mall, you can see MANY examples of this. If fact, this faulty neck posture is estimated to occur in 66-90% of the population!
Also, forward head posture is STRONGLY associated with decreased respiratory muscle strength, which can reduce lung capacity and our ability to breathe by as much as 30%!
It’s also linked to tension headaches, altered eye and ear function, high blood pressure, and over time it can lead to arthritis, herniated discs, pinched nerves, and more. The “classic” appearance is the position of the head is too far forward, the shoulders roll forwards and the upper back sticks out.
Did you know that for every inch the head glides forward from the proper position, there is a 10 lb increase of weight that the neck and upper back muscles have to hold up?
Using an average 12 lbs head, a 5 inch forward head carriage places an extra 50 lbs of weight on the upper back and neck muscles for a total of 62 lbs that your neck and upper back muscles have to hold up. No wonder your neck hurts!
Before we cover neck exercises and neck stretches, keep in mind that you must STOP the exercise if you feel sharp pain or tingling or numbness in any part of your body.
Also, if you want to see images of how these neck pain exercises are done, click on the “FREE NECK PAIN BOOK” box below to request free online access of the neck pain book that we put together to help our patients suffering from neck pain.
Here Are Exercises For Your Neck That Can Help Correct Your Neck Posture
First, look straight ahead and tighten your core by performing an abdominal brace. This is done by contracting your belly muscles so that when you poke your thumbs into your sides and front, you feel a firm abdominal muscle wall. You don’t have to “brace” at a 100% of maximum, shoot for 25-50% or just enough to feel the muscles contract. Relax and contract several times so you’re sure you can feel the muscles tighten up. Keep a curve in your lower back when you do this. Don’t slouch.
Second, look straight ahead and lift your chest. Don’t just tuck you head back. This will improve the rounded shoulders and slouched upper back posture. Think of lifting your chest towards the ceiling more than just sticking it out. Notice in the mirror how much this improves your posture.
Third, look straight ahead and perform chin retractions. Do 10 retractions every hour. Do this gently, slowly, and to a firm end-point of movement. If you feel like you are creating a “double or triple chin,” you are doing it right! If you do the ten reps every hour, then in an eight hour work day, you’ll have done 80 posture corrections! This a GREAT way to “re-program” your nervous system and when you find yourself doing this WITHOUT THINKING, it will have become a new (and good) habit.
What About Neck Stretching Exercises?
Since our neck muscles have to hold up our 12 pound head, it’s no wonder our neck muscles seem to be tight almost all the time. Let’s go over how you can stretch your neck.
The most effective way to stretch your neck is to move your neck in six different directions. Drop your chin to your chest, then move your head up and look at the ceiling. Go back to neutral and move your neck to one side to try to touch your ear to your shoulder (without shoulder shrugging). Repeat on the other side. Go back to neutral and turn your head to the right and then to the left.
If your neck pain can tolerate it, at the end of each of the above neck stretches, use gentle pressure with your hand to stretch your neck a little more.
Try These Neck Exercises To Strengthen Your Neck Muscles
Most people have a forward head carriage, meaning their head normally rests in front of their shoulders. In this incorrect neck posture, there are two groups of muscles that we need to strengthen: the deep neck flexors and the deep neck extensors.
The deep neck flexors are muscles located directly in front of the cervical (neck) spine and are described as being “involuntary” or unable to be voluntarily contracted. Therefore, we have to “trick” the voluntary outer “extrinsic” (stronger) muscles into NOT WORKING so that the deep, intrinsic ones will contract.
You can do this by flexing your chin to the chest and pushing your neck (not your head) back over your shoulders into resistance caused a towel wrapped around the back of your neck. If you feel your chin raise towards the ceiling, you’re doing it WRONG! Keep your chin tucked as close to your chest as possible as you push your neck (not your head) backwards.
If you’re doing this neck exercise correctly, your chest should raise towards the ceiling as you push your chin down and neck back. Get a towel and try it now.
Now let’s talk about the deep neck extensors.
The deep neck extensors are strengthened in a very similar way EXCEPT that here you DO push the back of HEAD back into your towel while keeping your chin tucked tightly into your chest. Do three reps. Hold each rep for three to five seconds and switch between the two for two to three sets.
Now Do These Neck Coordination Exercises
Enhancing your neck coordination may be the most important neck
exercise you can do. Coordination-based exercises are important
because they stimulate our neuro-motor system and can help restore
normal function.We can all relate to the challenge of learning new
activities. In many cases, we may struggle with the basics, but
over time, they become easier to perform and we’re eventually able
to accomplish these neuromuscular sequences without even thinking
about it.When we are injured, we COMPENSATE and change our methods
of doing the various tasks associated with our work and daily
living. Unfortunately, these altered neuromotor sequences can
become our “new normal” and can lead to other faulty compensatory
motor functions (a negative vicious cycle).To “fix” this, we must
first IDENTIFY the faulty pattern. Second we need
to FIX the faulty pattern consciously. Third, we need
to PRACTICE the new proper method long enough so that it
becomes automatic as our new normal.So, HOW do we re-establish
proper neck motor function after an injury?
Here’s how. When doing the neck exercises that we talked about above, at the end of the neck stretch or neck movement, release slowly but KEEP resisting… meaning, after you stop the motion, use a gentle force applied opposite the direction of the movement.
This gentle resistance as your neck muscles relax and elongate, builds coordination. In contrast, the gentle resistance that you were applying while your neck is still moving builds strength.
Only use a light amount of resistance when exercising your neck muscles – only 10-20% of a maximum push.
Another way to build neck coordination and establish proper neck function is to add more complex movements to your neck exercises… meaning, start doing two things at once. For example, pinch a ball between your knees or stand on one leg while performing your neck exercises.
Be mindful or THINK about what you are doing to further stimulate your nervous system. Some other ways to add variety to your exercises include incorporating sitting on a gym ball, standing on a rocker or wobble board.
Be patient with these neck pain exercises. Be patient with your progress. Think long-term. Over time, you should notice an improvement in your neck pain and you should also notice an improvement in your neck function.
Again, if you want to see images of how these neck pain exercises are done, click on the “FREE NECK PAIN BOOK” box below to request free online access of the neck pain book that we put together to help our patients suffering from neck pain.
If you need our help, call our office at (831) 475-8600 and we’d be happy to help you get neck pain relief.
Here’s a patient talking about her experience with our treatment.