Did you know that you have core muscles in your neck? Just like your lower back we have muscles around the neck whose job it is to stabilise the neck. They are called your deep neck flexors. And just like your lower back these muscles need to be worked gently, but progressively so they can take the load of our normal everyday lives.
These days, with long periods sitting at desks looking at computers, and then sitting on the bus to go home looking down at your ipad or smartphone, they need to be ready to work for extended periods to hold our heavy heads (on average the head weighs 4.5-5kgs!). Weakness in these muscles groups can develop from poor sustained posture, whiplash type injuries and trauma to the neck. Symptoms of weak deep neck flexors can range widely from neck pain and/or headaches, stiffness to muscular pain in the neck as well as upper back and shoulders.
We also know that with any pain you have muscle inhibition. This is true particularly for the stabilising muscles next to the spine and one of the reasons the idea of “core” strengthening has become so popular for the lower back. It is estimated that 70-90% of people will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives. We can apply the same principles to the neck, although the numbers are slightly lower, ranging from 10-20% of the population each year. Pain will still limit the ability of the neck stabilisers to do their job, placing more pressure on the joints and ligaments and causing more neck pain!
There are simple exercises you can do to improve your strength around the neck and help prevent further headaches and pain. The most basic is a supine deep neck flexor activation (see video below). The movement is small, with the focus on control rather than power. You start by lying down on your back with your knees bent up and feet flat on the floor. You may need to put a small towel under the back of your head to keep your neck relaxed from the start. The movement is a gentle slide of the back of the head, lengthening the back of the neck and gently nodding your chin. Initially, just practising the movement is enough, but eventually you can progress to holding for 10-20 seconds and doing the exercise in different positions.
If you have had neck pain before, or you get neck pain or headaches from sitting at your desk, you would benefit from a Physio Assessment of your deep neck strength. Book in to see one of the Physio’s at Bend + Mend in Sydney’s CBD. We have clinics located at both Martin Place and Barangaroo – King Street Wharf.