I’m not talking about major neck trauma here, but when you strain your neck or have been digging the garden for example and your neck gets stiff, most people will put on a neck brace to stabilize it or keep their neck in a stiff position…when the opposite is the correct thing to do! Neck pain and stiffness is a very common complaint and because we all spend far more time sitting these days it only exacerbates the underlying problem.
Now there are some exercises you should not do. One of them is to rotate your head in circular motion using the neck as a fulcrum as you will put the small joints at the top of the spine under too much loading. Obviously using a neck brace will take the loading off the neck, but using it for long periods of time will weaken the neck muscles and further stiffen the joints at the top of the spine and won’t fix the problem. There are specific neck mobilizing exercises you can do, but they should be used for keeping the neck mobile and will be too painful to do for people who have just strained their neck. Below are a few simple exercises to do with minimal equipment –
- Take the neck brace off the first exercise to do is to get on your hands and knees a crawl around on the floor for a minute or two. This and the following exercises will work the muscles around the neck, without putting direct loading on the joints at the top of the spine.
- If you have a Fitness Band use this for the next few simple exercises, otherwise use an elastic band if you have one. Sit on the floor and have your legs straight. For comfort you can place your back up against the sofa (or a chair that won’t move) and sit in the ‘L’ position (look at the photo below). Hook the band behind your feet, or just one foot and pull one arm at a time to your chest unlike how the exercise is depicted in the photo as you want a very light loading. Do 20 gentle repetitions each arm. Breathe out forcefully with every repetition for this exercise and all the subsequent exercises below.
- Next exercise tie the band onto the doorknob of a door that is closed outwards (so it is secure), sit in the ‘L’ Sit position as in the previous exercise and face away from the door. Hold the band at arms length and slightly behind your head and pull the band down to your shoulders together. Do 20 gentle repetitions of this exercise. These two exercises are gentle because you just want to mobilize, not strengthen at this stage. If you have a more stable way of doing this exercise and a Swiss Ball that you can use behind your back for extra security, use them.
- Do standing Press Ups against a stable surface and keep that breathing outwards forcefully with every repetition.
- Stand and do 20 lateral arm raises just using the weight of your arms as resistance.
- Use a stable chair and place one foot at a time up on it. Firstly have a bent knee of the raised leg and reach for your toes. Do 10 repetitions each leg and if you comfortably can touch your toes in this position, try to repeat it with a straight knee.
- Next stand with your feet at hip-width apart and slowly reach up to the ceiling for 10 repetitions.
- Lastly do 10 slow toe touches in the same position and try to keep your knees as straight as possible.
Your neck should be mobile after you have finished these exercises and there should be far less pain. You don’t need drugs to get rid of the pain as this masks the problem. The most important factor is that these exercises are for mobilizing the neck, not to be used as a strengthening routine. Rotate the neck on occasions when you feel it stiffening – firstly turning it one side, then the other and keeping your chin parallel to the floor – then backwards and forwards for a few slow repetitions each movement. Best to tuck your chin in towards your spine while looking forward before you start each movement. This straightens your neck.
Note: Pain is a signal from your body that there is some internal stress. Using anti-inflammatory and muscle-relaxing drugs masks the problem and while using such drugs gives you quick relief, they do not fix it. If you are going to use these drugs, then do something to fix the problem…in this case by mobilizing the stiff area of the body. Drugs are used as a ‘quick fix’ but you will gain far quicker results by using these exercises than you will with drugs…