In the first segment, I described the conditions that are causative of chronic neck pain and provided a general solution, which I call “tight back, loose neck.” Now I will provide specific exercises you can implement to once again have a healthy and pain-free neck.
To tone and tighten your upper back (rhomboid muscles), you can perform a simple movement called “rowing.” The easiest way to do this exercise is as follows.
While standing, extend your arms, shoulder width apart, directly in front of your body, with your hands in a loose fist. Also have your feet placed shoulder width apart for balance. The first thought and motion at the start of the exercise is to contract your rhomboid muscles, by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Then, begin pulling your hands and arms back, in what is called a rowing motion. As you pull your arms back, concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together and tightening the rhomboid muscles. Once you have pulled your elbows back as far as you can and contracted your shoulder blades and rhomboids as much as possible, slowly move your arms forward to the starting position. Do about 10-15 slow and steady repetitions in this manner, and you should feel your upper back begin to tighten.
To add resistance to your rows, you can purchase from a sporting goods store what are called resistance bands, and use these to make the rows more challenging. Alternatively, if you have access to a gym, you can perform rows on a machine designed for this movement. Adding resistance will make the exercise more effective.
To loosen your neck, I suggest you perform a “7 way neck stretch.” You can do this either standing or sitting. You will want to hold each of these seven poses for 15 – 20 seconds each for maximum results. The 7 way neck stretch is performed as follows:
- With your head upright and facing forward, drop your head forward and allow it to hang in this position as far as you can comfortably. This is called neck “flexion.” (With each stretch, you can use your fingertips to nudge your head, very gently, in the direction of the stretch, to slightly increase your range of motion. After each stretch, always return your head to its starting position, which is upright and facing forward.)
- Drop your head directly sideways toward your left shoulder.
- Drop your head in the direction halfway between forward and your left shoulder, for a “¼” neck stretch to the left side (this stretch is midway between the prior two stretches).
- Drop your head directly sideways over your right shoulder.
- Drop your head in the direction halfway between forward and your right shoulder, for a ¼ stretch to the right side.
- Rotate your head to the left side, while still fully upright, as though looking back over your left shoulder.
- Rotate your head to the right side, while still fully upright, as though looking back over your right shoulder.
Caution: Do not ever move your head directly backward to stretch your neck, called neck “extension,” because it can be harmful. This is an unnatural movement; your spine was not designed to contract in this manner.
If you have time, you can perform this series of stretches a second time; your range of motion will be slightly increased since your neck is now a bit looser from the first set of repetitions.
To further add flexibility to your neck you might also perform gentle neck rolls. This is accomplished by letting your head hang forward, and then rolling your head around gently in a circular manner. Do not roll your head very far back, because, once again, this is not a natural movement of the spine.
Of course, there are many other exercises and stretches available to strengthen the upper back and improve flexibility in the neck, but hopefully my two favorite exercises will quickly get you on the path to better neck health and less pain. Life without pain is a good thing!