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EXERCISES FOR NECK pain
I cannot stress enough that if you have neck pain, it is imperative that you stretch your tight muscles and strengthen your loose muscles. When your muscles aren’t too tight and aren’t too loose, you will hold the beneficial effects of your treatments longer and be less vulnerable to injury. Research supports that home exercise is more effective than taking medicine for long term relief of pain.
In this section, I share some of the floor exercises I used to loosen up my neck and back, providing me relief from my pain and stiffness. I was determined to go from having a stiff, almost immobilized spine to one that could move enough to do my activities of daily living.
EXERCISES THAT HELP WITH NECK PAIN
AGAIN, MOST NECK PAIN involves tight neck muscles in the back of the neck (the posterior muscles), weak muscles between the shoulder blades (the rhomboids), and tight pectoral muscles (the muscles in the chest). This chapter shows you how to strengthen those weak rhomboids and posterior neck muscles
Isometric Exercises for the Neck
Many of these exercises use isometric contraction; that is, you contract your muscles without allowing movement. Think about pushing a car. Your arm muscles contract as you push the car, but your muscles aren’t actually moving. The strain you feel in your muscles are isometric contractions. You want to try to achieve the same feeling when you do isometric exercises for your neck.
These neck exercises can be done while you are seated or standing. I suggest you stand if you can to increase blood flow and oxygenate your system.
Isometric Contraction in Flexion To Improve the strength of Neck muscles
To do an isometric contraction for the muscles in the front of your neck (the anterior muscles), put your hands on your forehead (Figure 11-1). Press into your hands with your anterior neck muscles, but stop your head from moving with your hands. Hold for three breaths. This strengthens the anterior neck muscles.
Isometric Contraction in Rotation To Improve The Strength Of Neck Muscles
To do an isometric contraction for the muscles at the sides of your neck, put your right hand at the right side of your forehead (Figure 11-2). Press into it by trying to turn your head to the right, but use your hand to prevent the rotation. This exercises the rotation muscles in your neck. Hold for three breaths. Repeat on the left side.
Isometric Contraction in Lateral Flexion To Improve The Strength Of Neck Muscles
Put your hand to the right side of your head (Figure 11-3). Press into it by laterally flexing your head to the right, but prevent your head from moving by applying pressure with your hand. This exercises the lateral flexion muscles in your neck. Hold for three breaths. Repeat on the left side.
Post-Isometric Contractions for the Neck To Improve The Strength Of Neck Muscles
Post-isometric stretching involves bringing a muscle to a stretched position, then contracting the muscle at 30 to 50 percent of its strength without allowing it to move for three to five slow breaths. On the last exhale, you relax the muscle, allowing it to lengthen farther, deepening the stretch. When you contract opposing muscle groups, you fool them into thinking they are in a contracted (shortened) state, so when they relax, they elongate, allowing for a deeper stretch. You can repeat this up to three times.
Unlike the isometric contractions on the previous pages, in the following exercises you stretch one set of neck muscles and then contract the opposing muscle group without allowing the muscles to move by placing a hand against your head.
Post-isometric stretches can be performed with any muscle to increase flexibility. Football players often stretch their hamstrings using isometric contractions.
Post-Isometric Contraction in Rotation To Improve The Strength Of Neck Muscles
To stretch the neck in rotation with a post-isometric contraction, turn your head as far to the left as is comfortable (Figure 11-4).
Figure 11‑4: Turning the head to the left.
You (or your practitioner) place a hand on your right temporal region to provide resistance as you press into the hand as if you are trying to turn your head to the right (Figure 11-5).
Figure 11‑5: Isometric contraction to the right (providing resistance with the right hand).
Hold this contracted isometric state for three to five deep, slow breaths. You (or your practitioner) should not push your head to the left because this can strain the muscles. On the last exhale, relax, allowing your head to turn farther to the left (Figure 11-6).
Figure 11‑6: Turning the head farther to the left without pressing with the right hand.
When you’ve reached your comfortable limit in left rotation, you (or your practitioner) provide resistance as you turn your head to the right again and as you (or they) resist by pressing to the left (Figure 11-7).
Figure 11‑7: Pressing into the hand to the right a second time.
Again, this is an isometric contraction, so your head shouldn’t turn at all. Just try to turn your head to the right as you (or your practitioner) hold your head still. Hold for three to five breaths and then relax. If you can turn farther to the left, do so, repeating the isometric contraction to the right again.
Repeat up to three times in one direction. Then repeat, turning your head to the right, with isometrics to the left.
Post-Isometric Contraction in Lateral Flexion To Improve The Strength Of Neck Muscles
Post-isometric stretching can be used for lateral flexion as well. First, tilt you head as far as you can to the right (Figure 11-8).
Figure 11‑8: Tilting the head to the right.
Then place your right hand on the left side of the top of your head and press your head into your hand (Figure 11-9), contracting the muscles that would tilt your head to the left).
Figure 11‑9: Isometric contraction of the neck to the left.
Hold the contraction for three breaths. On the third exhale, relax and see if your head will fall into a deeper tilt to the right (Figure 11-10).
Figure 11‑10: Going deeper into the stretch.
If you can’t go deeper, just press into the right hand again. If your head tilted farther to the right, bring your right hand to the left side of the head again and press into it (Figure 11-11).
Figure 11‑11: A deeper isometric contraction to the left.
Again, hold for three breaths and relax on the final exhale. Repeat this up to three times.
Then repeat on the other side.
You can do post-isometric stretches throughout the day. To learn how, visit my YouTube channel and watch:
Strong Posterior Neck Stretch To Improve The Strength Of Neck Muscles and their range of motion
This particular stretch isn’t necessarily good for everyone. Please confirm with your healthcare provider that this stretch is appropriate for you.
To work the muscles in the front and the back of your neck at the same time, try this exercise. Turn your head about halfway toward your right shoulder. Place your left hand at the base of your skull with the base of your thumb where your skull rests on your spine. Tuck your chin in and press back with your head as you press forward and upward with your left hand (Figure 11-12).
This combination forms a strong traction for the muscles in the back of your neck on the left and strengthens the muscles in the front of your neck on the right.
Repeat on the other side.
Rhomboid Strengthening Exercise
Rhomboids are the muscles between your shoulder blades. You can strengthen them by simply squeezing your shoulder blades back and down as if you’re bringing the bottom of your shoulder blades together (Figure 11-13). Hold this position for a couple of breaths. Remember to keep your shoulders back and down as you do this exercise. It is more important to do this exercise frequently throughout the day instead of focusing on the number of times you do it in a row. Try doing this stretch every twenty minutes.
Figure 11‑13: Strengthen the rhomboids by squeezing the shoulder blades back and down.
If your pectoral muscles (the muscles in your chest) are tight and/or overdeveloped, they will pull your shoulders forward and cause you to slouch, which can lead to neck pain. Doing this rhomboid strengthening exercise will not only strengthen these opposing back muscles, but it will also stretch out your tight pectoral muscles and make it easier for you to stand up straight.
Be careful not to engage your upper back muscles (the trapezius muscles). They tend to be overdeveloped and want to assist your weaker rhomboid muscles (Figure 11-14). This imbalance can result in neck pain. It can also lead to radiation of pain down the arms.
Figure 11‑14: Incorrect shoulder squeeze (above) versus proper shoulder squeeze (below).
Grab onto a doorframe with one hand and lean back (keep your shoulders down, away from your ears). Then pull your weight up by squeezing your shoulders back and down by contracting your rhomboids (Figure 11-15). Be careful not to pull yourself up with your arm muscles — that’s cheating! Then relax, allowing your body to lean back. Repeat ten times.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Shoulder Squeeze for neck pain
If you want to make the shoulder squeeze a heavy-duty workout, add an exercise band (Figure 11-16).
Figure 11‑16: Rhomboid strengthening with an exercise band.
I recommend doing this exercise with your palms up because it helps the shoulder blades maintain a better position. It also changes the orientation of your palms, which are usually facedown with regular daily activities. Remember, if you do too much of one thing, you should balance it out with the opposite action every once in a while.
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