Exercise For the Stiff Neck
We’ve all had it before. You make a wrong move and something gets pulled in your neck. The next thing you know every little move causes pain. You have to turn your whole body to change lanes. Others pick up on your disability quickly because you’re moving like a robot.
Whether it’s the result of an acute injury like a sprain or strain or a chronic degenerative issue, neck pain is clearly a pain in the you-know-what. Provided a more serious injury has been ruled out, there are steps we can take to expedite the process of getting back to normal.
The cervical spine segments from C1-C7 are the most mobile in the spine thanks to their design, partly owing to their location (less weight bearing) and partly due to the great range of head motion needed to account for our limited peripheral vision. This tendency toward high levels of mobility is a great advantage, but also makes an injured or immobile cervical spine more noticeable (and irritating!).
At any rate, for most of us, increasing cervical spine motion is not what we are looking for when we are injured. This may seem counterintuitive when an injury has made the neck feel stiff and tight, but our approach would be not to attack the neck issue directly. Instead, we would go away from the neck in order to still drive motion through the system, but also give the neck a chance to heal. By feeding the neck through motion below, it’s neighbors like the thoracic spine can facilitate the healing process by bringing the rest of the body’s resources into the equation.
This is in fact, both the therapy for the acute neck strain and for the chronically tight neck that is prone to bouts of getting really tight. One of the primary suspects we look for in these cases is a tight and poorly functioning thoracic spine. If the thoracic spine is restricted, whether from sitting at a desk all day or just a lack of attention in training, a large pool of available spinal motion may have been removed from the movement equation. By tapping back into that motion we can both reduce some of the motion that has been driven upward to the cervical spine (you’re still going to turn your head) and begin to set the table for keeping stress out of that area long term. It’s not a one-shot deal. If you have degenerating disks in the cervical spine, training the thoracic spine becomes an everyday task, and in the long run your neck will thank you.