By: Dr. Rudy Gehrman, DC
As promised, DIY neck pain exercises are below. But first, let’s talk about what’s going on in your body.
We’ve all heard over and over again how important good posture is. And yet, many of us still find ourselves slouching in our seats or hunched over our phones and laptops throughout the day. Well, I’m here to tell you again just how important good posture really is. But don’t worry, this isn’t just another lecture–I’ve got tips!
Let’s start from the top–your head. The average human head weighs from 10 to 12 pounds about the weight of the average bowling ball. Lucky for us, our necks were designed to perform a perfect balancing act of that bowling ball. Our necks (cervical spine) have a gentle C shaped curve that was designed to evenly distribute the vertical pressure of our skulls onto the 7 vertebrae that make up our cervical spine. Think of this curve acting as a spring. When this balancing act is disrupted by poor posture or trauma, a loss of this curve can occur, resulting in uneven weight distribution onto these vertebrae and the intervertebral discs that live in between these bones. When a person experiences a straight neck (also called flat neck or military neck), this natural curve disappears, making you susceptible to damage.
The loss of this curve is way more than just a pain in the neck. As the curve in your neck is lost, the pressure on the discs increases, along with the tension on the spinal cord. The muscles in the back of your neck and shoulders become stretched and tight, having to work harder to support the weight of your head. Over a period of time, this uneven distribution of weight can lead to degenerative changes, disc herniations, and neurological symptoms. Research shows that the straightening of the cervical spine disrupts the biomechanics of the body. Your neck houses your vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. Loss of this curve can lead to disruption of this flow and to reduced amounts of blood flow to the head.
Posture is sounding pretty important right about now, right? In order to prevent any of these issues, we need a little bit of optimism and posture, posture, posture! A simple way to think of it is we all need to stop looking down at the ground so much and start looking up at the clouds. We have a terrible habit of bringing our bodies towards technology and not technology towards us. A prime example of this is “text neck”, the repeated stress injury and pain that comes from spending long periods of time looking down at a computer or phone screen. Shifting your head forward just 15 degrees doubles the apparent weight of the head, doubling the amount of work necessary for your muscles.
Here come those DIY neck pain tips I promised! The quick solution: Bring your phone to the level of your eyes, versus bending your head down to your phone. The same principle applies to your workstation, fit the workstation around you, not the reverse. It’s important to position the bottom of the monitor at eye level or higher. If you work on a laptop, investing in a wireless keyboard or connecting a second computer monitor are both great ways to keep yourself from looking down. If you’re working from home right now, you may need to get creative here! But, don’t worry, I’ve got your back. I go more in-depth about creating a neck friendly home workstation here. Another great way to decrease the technology-induced stress on your neck is to take periodic breaks to stretch or perform postural exercises….get your ass up and move around!
While these quick tips are great and will help you prevent further damage, having some other tools in your arsenal to combat the damage that’s been done and actively avoid further damage is a must. Below are four neck exercises to help strengthen your cervical spine during those movement breaks:
DIY Neck Pain Exercises
At home cervical decompression with extension: Lie on your back, on a bench or firm bed. Slowly slide your head and neck off the edge of the bed. Use your hand to return to the starting position. Please note a conservative progression should be used, by slowly adding an extension, whereby when an advanced range of motion has been achieved, your entire head should be able to be extended back. Start on day 1 with a 15-sec hold, day 2: 30-second hold, day 3: 1min, day 4: 2 mins. Continue 1 minute daily until you reach the ability for a 15-minute hold/stretch. This is when permanent ligamentous change occurs…..where the magic happens:)
Chin retractions with extension: Slowly and gently tuck your chin down toward your neck. Keeping your chin where it is, extend your head back starting to look up towards the sky. Relax and repeat. Try doing the cervical retraction about 8-10 times/reps, performing 3-4 sessions a day.
Chest/Arm stretches with neck rotation: Stand next to a wall with one arm outstretched behind you at ear height with your palm on the wall. Slowly turn your body away from the wall, while rotating your head away from the wall. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side, performing 3-4 sessions a day.
Towel with extension: Place a rolled towel around the back of your neck, and hold ends with hands. Slowly look up as far as you can towards the ceiling, rolling your head over the towel. Apply gentle pressure on the towel to support the cervical spine as you extend your head back. Return to starting position, repeating 10 times/reps.
I love a DIY and know these tips can absolutely help you create healthier habits and feel a lot better, but we’re also here to provide some professional support! At Physio Logic, you can find Pilates, Physical Therapy, and Chiropractic care, which are all amazing ways to improve your posture and strengthen your body to help alleviate and prevent pain! If you’re interested in finding more neck pain exercises or seeing one of our providers, give us call or you can start by filling out the form below.