Keeping your neck healthy and happy!

Our osteopathy, Massimo, has shared his top tips and exercises to keep your neck working at its best.

The neck is indeed a key portion of our spine: Moving our 5 kilograms heavy head 600 times per hour and totalling more than 1 million degrees flexion / extension excursion per day (Worsfold, 2018), it serves the sense organs and in turn adapts to their requirements to direct sensory information to the brain.

Resisting body accelerations and displacement, axial compression and shear forces are other essential actions the neck performs in order to give balance and coordination to our body during common daily tasks like washing, driving, sitting at the desk, playing sports, playing with children etc.

All these seemingly effortless actions are primarily but not exclusively the result of a fascinating interplay between neck muscles, eye muscles and a specialised balance system inside the ears called ‘vestibular system’. These three anatomical structures work together thanks to a nerve network they share to integrate their information and to deliver their function.

Getting on with life chores may lead us to take neck activity for granted…until the following events happen and remind us of its silent, amazing job:

  • sport injuries
  • whiplash
  • cumulative strain from prolonged sitting
  • work-related repetitive overload
  • sudden or persistent psycho-emotional stressors

During these events, pain can be present because some tissues (e.g. joints, muscles, ligaments) have been damaged in case of an injury or because the nerves in the neck are informing us that the capacity in performing a task has gone beyond the tolerance threshold. Depending on the nature of a condition, sharp, catchy pain during movement, feeling of rigidity and persistent tightness can often be associated with headaches and feeling of light headedness and fatigue.

If this is the case for your neck – and you have not had any recent road traffic accident or trauma requiring medical attention for a suspected serious pathology – here’s our top tips to speed up recovery, to keep it healthy, functional and to thank it for its service!

1) Isometric exercise:
Isometric exercise was shown to both improve strength and reduce pain when used on muscles and tendons. Choose one direction (e.g. bending forward) and push your head against one or both of your hands for 10 seconds at 50% of your max power and relax. Repeat a few times and change direction.

2) Head retraction:
More commonly known as ‘chin tucks’, this is a great exercise to decompress all cervical bone segments, joints and discs and to deeply stretch the neck muscles. In seated position, gently tuck your chin into your neck without bending your head forward and imagine becoming longer and taller. Hold position for 5-10 seconds. The lighter the motion is, the more effective the results.

3) Diaphragmatic breathing:
The diaphragm is the primary muscle of breathing, it is dome shaped and separates the lungs from the visceral organs. Its tightening causes some secondary breathing muscles in the neck to have to work harder and often becoming tighter and achy too. Lie down on your back comfortably and imagine you fill up a balloon in your belly when you breathe in and let the balloon deflate on breathing out. Repeat this for 1-2 minutes a few times during the day.

4) Alternate sitting / standing posture:
Prolonged sitting whilst looking at the screen can only increase neck tightness (our body was not developed by nature for that) – find a way to adapt your screen to your variable posture. 15 minutes standing for every hour sitting will already be of great help.

5) Oculo-motor coordination / balance exercises:

Now that we know how deeply involved the neck, eye and vestibular system are in providing coordination and balance, it makes absolutely sense to do exercises which stimulate those capabilities in order to promote resilience. Creativity can produce countless modalities; the following are just two simple examples:

  1. Standing on right leg, left arm straight in front of you, thumb up, head still; move your arm horizontally and vertically and focus your attention on your thumb. After 1 minute change leg and arm.
  2. Standing on right leg, right arm straight in front of you, thumb up, focus on the tip of your thumb whilst your head is gently rotating to the left – your eyes are looking at the thumb and do not follow the head rotation.

Repeat 5 times and change leg/arm.

6) Manual therapy MOT:
Knowing why our neck is in pain is the very first step towards the solution. A professional consultation may indicate that joint mobilisations, soft tissue massage and manipulations would not only be appropriate but highly effective in either reducing your pain significantly or resolve it.

To book an appointment with our osteopath, call us on 01322 552299 or book online.