Preventing Neck Pain During Exercise
If we are not careful, the wrong neck posture during exercise can lead to discomfort or injury. Key to preventing injury are maintaining a neutral spine and perfecting the head nod for curling exercises. Also, everyday inattention to posture can worsen cervical posture to the point of dysfunction. At that point, certain exercises become off limits. So, it’s important to pay attention to neck posture while not exercising too.
When doing exercises such as sit-ups, the Pilates Hundred, and even the reverse fly, avoid tilting the head too far forward or backward. Tilting too far forward (overflexion) or backward (overextension) can lead to compression fracture of the cervical spine, disc rupture, or strain of deep muscles of the spine.
For this reason, Pilates instructors teach what’s called the head nod, also known as the craniovertebral nod (see below). All curling exercises should begin with the had nod. Proper mechanics dictates that the cervical spine should follow the line of the upper back. When tucking the chin, we tell our clients to imagine a small fist fitting into between the chin and the chest.
Proper neck posture, and that of the entire spine for that matter, is useful in everyday life. Being attentive means lifting heavy objects in a way that won’t lead to a strained back.
In contrast, being inattentive can lead to the acceleration of problems such as neck arthritis. Aside from that, poor neck posture can lead to curvature in the upper back known as kyphosis. Things such as lowering the head while reading, using the computer or the smartphone causes the neck to overflex. This posture pulls other parts of body out of line and can lead to pain. In turn, muscles that support the head and upper body become rigid/weak. This can start as early as the teens.
To combat it, we can do things like set reminders to get up and walk around. We can make a habit out of looking up from our screens or books. Just as we rest our eyes, we can rest our neck and do stretches and posture correction to realign our ears with our shoulders.
Finally, neck conditioning can help as well. Just as exercise can help with conditions such as knee pain, it can also help with a sore neck. The cervical spine flexes (forward) and extends (backward). It bends laterally, and it rotates. So, gentle stretches that work the neck in those directions are key.
What if you have forward head posture with slouched shoulders? This level of kyophosis illustrates why the shoulder girdle and rotator cuffs require attention as well as the neck.
Fortunately, even with a severe cases of kyphosis or osteoporosis, there are still exercises that can be done to maintain function and fitness.