Neck pain can occur for many different reasons, but what can you do about it? That’s the BIG question! As discussed last month, exercise training is an important part of the chiropractic management process. Let’s take a close look at which exercises are MOST important with respect to self-management strategies.
There are several goals or reasons to perform neck exercises. We will break these down into four main categories: Posture, stretch, strengthening, and coordination.
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 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 breath 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 disks, 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 forwards from the proper position, there is a 10 lbs (~4.5 kg) increase of weight that the neck and upper back muscles have to hold up? Using an average 12 lbs (~5.4 kg) head, a 5 inch (~12.7 cm) forward head carriage places an extra 50 lbs (~23 kg) of weight on the upper back/neck muscles for a 62 lbs (~28 kg) total! So, LET’S FIX IT!
Here is one exercise that may help your posture: Look straight ahead and 1) 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). 2) 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 a mirror how much improvement occurs already! 3) Perform chin retractions – do 10 retractions every hour (set the timer on your cell phone to remind you)! 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!