If you have neck pain or a stiff and painful neck here are the best and worst neck exercises to do and why.
I have been specializing in treating necks for 20 years throughout the world and the majority of people have the same problem with their necks. It is easy to fix once you know how and why. The major reason people have neck problems are from poor posture. The estimates are around 80% of neck problems are due tom poor posture. That’s the good news! After all, if 80% of neck pain was due to something like cancers then the news would be much worse as cancers are obviously much more difficult to treat. And I am certain if we didn’t have cars and whiplash injuries then the incidence of neck pain due to poor posture would be up around 90 plus percent.
So if the good news is that we pretty much all have neck pain due to postural problems then how do we go about fixing it? We need to firstly adjust our posture and secondly do some neck exercises. The neck exercises however must be not only done correctly but also must be chosen correctly. After all, the last thing you want to do is worsen your condition by doing the wrong ones. And this happens unfortunately all of the time. I see it in my clinic nearly every day. People come in with disc bulges that are getting worse and worse and have been trying to help it by doing exercises like bringing their chin to their chest. This is one of the worst neck exercises you could possibly do to a posterior neck disc bulge (which the majorities are- more of that later) as it pushes the disc further in the wrong direction.
So we now know that your neck pain is quite easy to fix if you do two things: remove the causes-bad posture and do some corrective exercises that help your neck and don’t push the structures in the wrong direction worsening your condition.
Our posture is worst at computers, reading and even driving. Now we have a major problem with neck problems due to text messaging.However, the good news is still that it is all postural therefore habitual and therefore under our control. In other words, if you can slouch at your computer you can also sit upright at your computer and remove your cause of your neck pain-it’s a choice. You have got into the habit of sitting and even standing poorly and you can change that habit simply by being more conscious of your posture and sitting and standing TALL.
When you slouch at your computer or when you are reading or driving with your head in what is known as a forward head posture you create enormous stresses on your neck. In fact, every inch your head moves out of correct postural position (your ears should be directly over the centre or midline of your shoulders) and into the forward head posture you create an extra 10lbs of weight for your neck to carry. Your head weighs about 8-10lbs but when you slouch you can create an extra 20-30lbs of weight from poor posture on your neck! Think what it would be like if I asked you to hold a 25lb weight in your hand with your arm outstretched for an hour or two. Firstly, you would never be able to do it because it would be too much strain on your shoulder. However, this is exactly what you ask of your neck every day when you are in poor posture.
This is why the Mayo clinic also say that ‘a forward head posture leads to long term muscle strains, disc herniations and pinched nerves’. They don’t even say could lead to or may lead to or even might lead to, it is straight forward ‘the FHP leads to…’ no ‘if’s’, ‘buts’, or ‘maybe’s’.
The forward head posture is also known as a protracted posture. Your head is in a protracted position. The opposite of this movement is retraction. So if protraction is worsening your neck we need not only to be keeping our heads in a neutral position to remain in good posture at all times but also give our necks some exercises to remove the stresses from all of this long term protracted positioning. If you are in pain do these exercises every hour until you are out of pain and then continue to do them 2-3 times a day as maintenance.
This should be done every waking hour, 10 repetitions with 3 second holds.
The double chin-the good, the bad and the ugly
• Draw your head backwards without your chin lifting up. Keep your chin tucked in and down you may need to look into a mirror a first to do this. Draw it back as far as you can comfortably. You want to repeat this 10 times and hold for 3 seconds. Draw it back as far as you can, hold for 3 seconds and release.
• Remember to breathe and relax.
…the bad and the ugly
• Lifting your chin up
• Forgetting to breathe and relax
If pain allows include this as well. Do 10 repetitions and turn your head about an inch each side 3 times. If it is too painful just continue with the double chin exercises until you can do the tennis in the sky exercise
Tennis in the sky-the good, the bad and the ugly
• Now that you have done the double chin, you need to follow up with “tennis in the sky”. Please note that if your pain is still too severe, just stick with the double chin until you can progress to this one.
• Start by doing the double chin and then look toward the sky without letting the chin jut forwards. Look up as far as possible and then look to the left and right as if you were watching a tennis match. Don’t do it too slowly nor too quickly, should it be about the pace of watching tennis match in a baseline rally and only allow the head to move a little way each side (you nose moves about an inch to the left and right).
• As you do this, try to extend your head further and further back as far as you can you are trying to look further and further behind you on the ceiling.
• Look upwards and turn your head side to side 3 times and then return your head to the starting position.
• Repeat this 10 times
• Remember to breathe and relax
…the bad and the ugly
• Allowing your head to jut forward when you extend. This is a common mistake, you must retract your head backwards first (creating the double chin) and then look upwards.
• Forgetting to extend your head back as far as possible( as pain permits)
• Forgetting to breathe and relax
What to do if you still have some pain
So you have been doing your exercises for 5-6 days now but you still have some pain. If the Pain is to one side you can also include this exercise. You bend your head TOWARDS THE SIDE OF THE PAIN. Let’s say you have pain on your left hand side still.
You should sit tall once again and take your left ear to your left shoulder. You are bending your head over to the left towards your left shoulder but your must make sure that you keep your head looking forwards. It is very common for people to want to turn their heads a little as they do this because they get their head a little further down but it is wrong.
The other thing that is important to do is keep lifting your head as you do this. When you bend your head to the side make sure that you have the feeling of lifting your head upwards the whole time you do this. It’s very much as if you were being pulled by a string from the top of your head. Keep that feeling of being pulled up as you bend to the side with your head. This will keep you from compressing your joints too much and help stretch the soft tissues as well as opening up the joint spaces. Hold the stretch for 3 seconds and then return to centre. Repeat 10 times and then do the same on the other side.
Do not put your hand on your head to pull it to the side as this will compress your joints! Keep the feeling of being lifted throughout the entire stretch.
Then you can follow this exercise with the double chin and tennis in the sky just like before. Continue to do these exercises until you are out of pain.