Two Easy Steps to Maintain Neck Health

 

Your neck is a delicate structure and an important one. Your neck channels blood to your brain to oxygenate it, and supplies the nerves connected from your brain into the whole body. Besides helping us breathe, look around and rotate to the extremes, it also has to hold up a 12-15 pound head! Proper alignment of the neck ensures that the blood and nerves flowing through this region are unobstructed for optimal brain function. Another bonus is a pain free neck!

Ideally, our heads should be “balancing” on top of a vertical spine in order to best fight gravity. Imagine a stack of blocks with a heavy weight at the top, perfectly balanced. Now imagine that heavy weight shifting forward a bit. This is essentially what happens with our head when we bring the head forward. This is called “Forward Head Posture”. People tend to do this while looking at screens and while driving. The “Forward Head Posture” creates a pinch or crease between the top of the neck and base of the skull, this causes repetitive strain on the muscles in the back of the neck. Over time, muscles there will permanently ( or close to permanent) shorten and stiffen to “help carry the load” of the head being forward. The muscles doing this are similar to guy wires re-inforcing the “Leaning Tower of Pisa” (that is your head at the top of your spine). Unfortunately the discs (cushions) between your neck bones also get pinched and torqued in this position; and your neck bones are not getting the benefit of having weight stacked on them, which can lead to bone loss. Hopefully you can understand why we want to avoid this scenario!


An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are two practices to keep your neck functioning optionally; you should do these every day as often as you think about it:

 

1) The Head Hang While having good posture, relax and drop your head forward to stretch the back of your neck. The closer your chin gets to your chest the better.

Doing the “Head Hang” will stretch the area where your head and neck bones meet, relieving the area of stiffness and repetitive shortening.

2) Head Ramping  Shift your head directly backwards without lifting your chin. It will feel like you are giving yourself a “double chin”. Ideally your ears will be lined over your shoulders and gaze is at the horizon. Remind yourself: “Chin Down”

Repeatedly pulling your head back corrects the common tendency to bring the face forward. It will keep the back of your neck crease-free and promote good blood flow!

 

About Lindsay Pelletier

Lindsay Pelletier, Core Dynamics Certified Pilates Instructor and ACE Certified Personal Trainer, is Senior Instructor and Owner of Hometown Pilates-a small Pilates and fitness studio near Madison, WI.