Back pain is so often talked about but what about your neck? Obviously it’s all interconnected and I’m not a fan of looking at parts of the body in isolation but I also don’t want anything to be forgotten!
If you’re going to have a bulging disc, it’ll be in the lumbar or cervical spine, very rarely the mid section. The cervical spine (aka your neck) supports the weight of your head and the curve of that part of the spine develops as a baby when we become strong enough to hold our own heads up, hence the importance of ‘tummy time’. Before that it is flat, with underdeveloped muscles leaving the head very unstable so the shape and support of neck is crucial.
Boxers routinely strengthen their necks to guard again the onslaught they face in the ring, but are the rest of us neglecting this practice? Do you struggle with sit ups where your neck gets sore before your abs? Are you so concentrated on ‘core strength’ that you’re neglecting your tummy time?! If so, we need to look at the deep neck flexors and how to make them stronger, maintain comfortable range of motion and minimise postural discomfort.
Modern times mean we spend far too much time looking down. iPhone neck anyone? Even a 10% forward tilt of the head vastly increases the weight suspended from CT junction at the base of your neck and asks the surrounding muscles to do far more than their function for movements. As much as we do to look after our lower back by working on our abdominals, let’s pay some attention to the other end too!
If you experience severe pain and symptoms such as tingling or numbness in your arms, this may suggest a disc issue, the risk factors for which increase with age. If you experience numbness this should always be investigated by your doctor, especially if it is always there, that is a red flag for immediate medical attention. However very often, disc issue or not, the prognosis is similar and the recommendations for treatment via exercise and physical therapy remain.
Back extension exercise is just vital to combat the mass of forward flexion we do everyday and keep our neck functioning and stable, but we need more than just cobras. Here are a couple of examples of how to activate the neck and upper back which will serve everyone well, particularly as an antidote to prolonged sitting/driving or too much looking down.
Of course these are just a start so do get in touch should you need a personalised plan for any issues you may have – FaceTime consultations are available at your convenience and are very effective. Give it a go and don’t neglect the neck!
1. Chin tuck
Sitting or standing, keep your eye-line straight ahead and pull your head straight back as if pushing into an imaginary wall behind you. Hold for 10 counts and release. You can practice this several times a day, building up to using a resistance band to push the head into.
- Angel arms with weights
Sit or stand with your back against the wall (hopefully the back of the head can also touch the wall but no need to force it). Holding weights, extend your arms to shoulder height also with the hands touching the wall. Keeping this contact, sweep the straight arms up above your head and back down slowly. Repeat till you feel the burn! Keep the shoulders down away from your ears.
*This move can also be done prone, one arm at a time, with or without weights and/or adding in a back extension.*
- Prone pole raise
Lay on your front with your forehead on the floor or a small pillow/towel for comfort. Extend your arms at shoulder width out ahead of you holding a pole, belt or strap. Keeping the arms straight and the shoulders away from the ears, lift the arms up off the ground as much as you can and hold for 15 counts. Repeat 3-4 times.