12 gifts to give your neck!
As wonderful as it is to give to others if you do not give health to yourself first you will not have the ability to give a lot to others.
There are so many levels to having optimum health and fitness and unless we breakdown your specific goals and make a plan we run the risk of simply not taking the right steps to achieve them.
Although with the best of intentions many folks skip right to activities like running, skiing, golfing and tennis because they are so enjoyable. Often, they lack the foundational movement skills that would decrease the risk of injury and improve the quality of the experience on many levels during and after with improved recovery.
All About Necks
The neck can tell us a lot about our body and lifestyle. Injuries, car accidents, stress, poor posture and breathing, poor movement quality, and time spent sitting can all contribute to a tight neck. A strong and mobile neck is often reflective of good life balance of movement and health.
The main function of the neck is to support the skull and the organ the skull protects: the brain. The brain and spinal cord make up the Central Nervous System, the mission control center of our body. Our spinal cord travels through the neck and houses all the sensory pathways to and from the rest of the body and the brain. Abnormal head position (even slightly askew) due to neck imbalances or history of injury can affect how your visual and proprioceptive sensory receptors perceive the world and how your brain responds as a result.
The part of the vertebral column that forms the neck is called the cervical spine. There are 7 small cervical vertebrae and they are made to accommodate movement in all directions, but are very fragile. The neck also forms a pathway that accommodates other body systems. The carotid artery carries oxygenated blood to the head and brain, the trachea allows air to flow to and from our lungs, and the esophagus forms an entry to the digestive system. All these structures require protection from a well-functioning neck.
The head is heavy! The average human adult’s head weighs about 1/7th of their total weight, but the force required to keep it upright increases significantly the farther forward the head is postured (i.e., flexing down to look at your phone) . Therefore, musculature of the neck is strong; the major muscles run mostly vertically from the clavicle or scapula (collar and shoulder bones) to the skull and jaw, while smaller stabilizers also exist that originate from each vertebra. The taller our neck and head posture, the more efficiently and effectively these muscles will perform their desired functions.
Good thing there are lots of things we can do to optimize the function of our neck…
Visual Inspection: How does it look?
- Does your head sit in a neutral position? Is it set forward, tilted, or rotated to one side?
- Are the shoulders pulled up towards the neck and ears?
- Are the neck veins distended and bulging?
- When you breathe in do your shoulders hike towards your ears?
Movement Inspection: How does it move?
- Can you touch chin to chest, or chin to collarbone? Can you get your forehead parallel to the roof?
- Can you freely look left and right to look behind you?
- Can you laterally tilt your head – ear to shoulder 30′?
- Any cracks or pops?
Sensory Inspection: How does it feel?
- Do you have pain at rest or with movement?
- Do you have tingling or numbness in your arms or shoulders?
- Does it feel achy in the morning or at the end of the day?
12 Gifts for Your Neck
# 1 Give it a Break! Advice from Dr. Olson….
“As many patients take winter holidays to relax and get some warmth and sunshine, they could also give their necks a holiday too. Take a break and limit your cellphone to taking pictures and essential calls only. Stop texting and checking emails every 5 minutes! Same advice for your computer. Take a break from technology and give your neck a holiday. It gets really tired and stressed from looking down all day long. Pretend it’s the 70s when people could only get in touch with you by mail or a land line. If you weren’t home – you missed the call – and the sun still rose the next day. ”
# 2 Ball to traps and shoulder rotator (supraspinatus), or roller stick to shoulders
Stand against a wall with a ball at your tense muscle region
- TRAPS: Back of the shoulder blade.
- SUPRASPINATUS: Top of the shoulder, slightly behind the bony protrusions. Option 1 – angle body into the doorway, Option 2 – lean into ball on wall.
# 3 Controlled articular rotations of the neck
Standing tall, allow your head to rotate within a comfortable range of motion, 3 full circles in each direction. Do not work through pain.
# 4 Neck checks seated or standing with a dowel
Seated: Place hands on a bench to stay tall and keep shoulders from elevating. Explore range of motion: flex/extend, rotate, tilt side/side.
Standing: Hold dowel behind body, palms forward to keep shoulders from elevating. Maintain rib-hip connection. Explore movement in all directions.
# 5 Isometric retractions with a band or headrest in a car.
Place hands or band on back of head. Apply light resistance and gently draw head back, creating a double chin. Stay tall and hold for several breaths.
# 6 Start thinking of your neck as an important piece of your movement health.
I think of the neck as a mini spine that moves similarly to the spine itself. Flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation are all components of the cervical spine and the spine below it. Don’t ignore movement impairments and hope they will just go away!
Seek out professionals such a physiotherapist and chiropractors to improve your neck mobility. Don’t wait or only go for acute pain! Consider regular visits to address your issues, get better range, and enjoy the benefits of such!
# 7 Deep flexion with soft ball at wall
Place soft ball between forehead and wall. Gently press into ball and tuck chin to throat. Release and repeat as tolerated. This movement helps strengthen the deep neck flexors, muscles which will help prevent head forward posture.
# 8 Mindful postural assessment – All Fours Neutral Back with dowel
Perfect posture is critical for good neck health. A good safe way to assess is to use a dowel on your back while on your hands and knees. The dowel should touch the back of your head, between your shoulder blades, and your tailbone. The shoulders should not be shrugged and there should be a small curve in the low back. Breathe deeply and become comfortable in this position – the dowel trick also translates to standing, kneeling, or hinging posture.
# 9 Four Way Scapular Movement
From standing or in all fours position with a neutral back, draw the shoulder blades together and spread them apart without shrugging or bending the elbows, or involving your spine. When the scapulae are locked and tight, the mobility of the neck is also restricted. You might find this hard to do at first but with practice you can achieve some good gliding of your shoulder blades in all directions.
# 10 McGill Curl Up
Lie on back with one knee bent and hands behind head. Find rib-hip connection and allow back of head and heel to lift 1 inch. Keep your tongue on roof of mouth to activate deep neck flexors. Hold for 1-3 breaths, repeating several times per side.
# 11 Look at Your Sleeping Position
Physical therapist Dr. Quinn Henock reminds us in his article “Sleeping Positions: A discussion of Pros and Cons,” that you’re a bad sleeping position is better than no sleep at all. That said it “It takes weeks for soft tissue to become adaptively shortened to a position,” so the months and years of improper positioning and pillows can take their toll. Ensure you have your neck in as close to a neutral position as you can while falling asleep or repositioning yourself through the night.
#12 Try this position for relaxing, meditating, and breathing.
Give your neck some of these gifts this season. I know they are going to love them!
Next week: Gifts for your back.
Written by: Sheila Hamilton January 2017
Click here to listen to Sheila discuss this topic with Jon McComb on the “Fitness Segment,” which airs live every Thursday at 9:05 am CKNW 980am radio.
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