An article by exercise physiologist, Jennifer Smallridge.
Your neck is made of seven amazing vertebrae which sit on top of one another, leading up to the skull. The vertebrae are balanced in a ‘C’ shape to help distribute the weight of the head, and are supported by muscles to keep us upright. It allows us to move our head around in order to see, and helps vital processes to occur by acting as a pathway for both food and air.
The neck also contains structures such as glands, our vocal cords, oxygen-rich arteries and the beginning of the spinal cord. You can now see why looking after your neck is so important! Discomfort in the neck can arise from time to time, and appears to be more frequently noted in office and computer workers. This could be due to the fixed position we hold when working at a desk, where our natural function of the neck is to look around and move as much as possible!
How movement can help:
New, intense or unexpected neck pain is always recommended to be checked out by a health professional. If the pain is considered to be chronic, it is thought that exercise can help in the following ways:
• Strengthening the neck muscles – people with chronic neck pain often have weakened muscles in the area, which can lead to more issues down the track.
• Keeping the range of motion – the less the neck moves, the less it can move in the future, and people with stiffness tend to report higher pain levels.
• Balancing the inner and outer muscles – if the deep neck stabilisers aren’t doing their job, other nearby muscles may start to activate, becoming easily fatigued and sore. This could explain why a neck massage can feel so good!
Did you know:
Humans have the same amount of vertebrae in their neck as giraffes – but theirs are much bigger! The average human head weighs between 4.5 – 5kg, and this weight can put strong forces through the neck if we don’t hold ourselves up properly.
Before you start:
For each of the following exercises, ensure that your neck is nice and warm (for example, after a hot shower or brisk walk), or after placing heat packs on your neck for at least 10 minutes. It is important when exercising the neck to only go as far as comfortable, and not to push through strong pain.
- Slow nodding: 1 x 10, 5 second hold at the top and the bottom
- Head tilting: 1 x 10, 5 second hold in both directions
- Head turning: 1 x 10, 5 second hold in both directions
- Chin tucks: 1 x 5, 5 second hold
- Shoulderblade squeezes: 1 x 10, 3 second hold
- Massage ball on shoulders: 30 seconds each side
- Plank on bench: 3 x 10 second holder
- Standing angles: 1 x 10
- Restricted rotation: 1 x 5 to each side, 3 second hold