The old saying “What a pain in the neck”, is now becoming a national epidemic. According to the Mayo Clinic, over 30% of the U.S. population will experience some form of neck pain or discomfort this year. That’s a staggering number which unfortunately, is only going to continue to rise in the coming years. Everyone says it’s because of our addiction to phones, tablets, and computers however, those things aren’t going away so what can we do to combat this growing problem?
First, we have to understand how the neck is meant to operate and then we need to start strengthening it. Yep, you read that correctly. Instead of cranking on the neck trying to alleviate tension, it’s more beneficial to start building strength to take care of those symptoms.
The cervical spine is comprised of 7 vertebras. In a healthy functioning neck, each of them is supposed to be able to primarily flex and extend and then also be able to a smaller degree laterally flex and rotate. However, if you don’t move your neck on a regular basis, these movements can become compromised. Instead of 7 vertebras moving individually, they begin to start moving as chunks. This is when the problems start to set in.
Think of it like this, if the work of 7 is now being done by only 2 or 3, eventually something is going to start breaking down. If vertebras aren’t actually moving, blood flow ceases to get into those discs and eventually arthritis sets in. Years of arthritis and continuous lack of blood flow will eventually lead to much worse conditions like herniated or bulging discs. All this because we simply stop moving our necks everyday!
COMBAT THIS IN 3 SIMPLE STEPS
At this point in the blog you might be wondering "How can I combat this?" It's actually not as complicated as you think. All you need to do is start moving your neck people!:
1. A simple and effective exercise you can do starting today, is to flex your neck forward and extend it backward. I demonstrated this in an Instagram post earlier this week. Just remember to keep the movement short and pain-free and do this as many times a day as possible
2. Once you’ve gotten in a good healthy habit of doing this multiple times a day, click on the video below to learn how to do standing Neck CARS. This movement will help you to develop control in all the ranges of motion your neck can perform. Once again, keep it small and pain-free and eventually your ranges will increase. 5 reps each direction is a great place to start.
3. Now that we have our neck moving better it’s time to start strengthening. Look at the size of our heads, I mean they’re so heavy! No matter how much you tug, pull, smash, and stretch the tissue on your neck, the pain and tightness will never go away until you start adding some strength work. To be clear, I’m not talking about those old school chain neck harnesses (although it’d probably be better than doing nothing). Nope, I’m talking about isometric strength training.
Isometrics are a form of muscular contraction in which neither the joint angle or muscle length changes. What’s great is they don’t cause any inflammation. Building strength without inducing inflammation is a huge win if you’re experiencing pain.
In the video below I demonstrate 4-way neck isometrics which is a great beginner exercise I give to clients suffering from any form of neck pain or discomfort. It’s super easy and can be done anytime, anywhere, multiple times a day. You don’t need a ton of tension while doing this. Just enough to feel the muscles being used.
Immediately follow this exercise up with the Neck CAR I mentioned above and soon your neck problems will be a thing of the past. We can’t stop using phones, tablets, or computers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start moving our necks more. Movement is medicine, so set some alarms on your phone to make sure you’re getting your medicine everyday!
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ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN
Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field. He's coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. CLICK HERE to learn more.
NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist
Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach
Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)
Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor
Weck Method Qualified