October is always one of my favorite times of the year. The weather gets a little cooler, the football season is in full swing, pumpkin flavored food is available, Oktoberfest beers are on tap, and most of all Halloween is right around the corner. Before the time comes for ghouls, ghosts, and demons, it is important to prepare and protect your neck.
Using these 6 tips to protect your neck will help prevent you from becoming one of the undead and drastically improve your neck health.
6 Ways to Prevent Neck Pain
As with any spinal pathology, posture is the most important variable. In our technology dominated society we spend much of our time with our necks flexed down or lurching forward. These gravity dominating postures can add up over time and cause great damage to your neck and shoulder muscles, vertebrae, neural tissues, and circulatory system. It is of grave importance that we maintain good neck posture when ever we can.
Of course it’s impossible to sit and stand straight up ALL the time. The research has shown signs of maladaptive connective tissue response occurs after 20 minutes. So doing a “postural reset” every 20 minutes will reverse gravity’s damaging forces, activate muscles to prevent atrophy, and most importantly, allow you to heighten your senses to view any potential vampires in your environment. Ensuring that you have the correct ergonomic set up is also a key factor in maintaining proper posture.
Postural Reset – Stand with feet straight ahead, keep knees straight but not locked out, slightly contract glut muscles, gently tense stomach muscles, slide shoulder blades back and down, stack head back on top of shoulders, and hold for anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Even if you can’t stand up (in a meeting, class, auction, getting your hair cut, etc) then you can still benefit from a postural reset from the waste up. Here’s a video of a useful postural exercise: The Da Vinci
2. Face Forward
If your head is down and buried into your book, smartphone, or laptop you will be leaving the back of your neck wide open for a vampire to feast on. It could also cause long term damage to your neck (spinal stenosis, disc herniation, muscle atrophy, etc.). So even if a vampire doesn’t make you the next meal, you’ll still be in trouble later on in life.
A simple fix is to bring objects to the level of your face (or at least higher than your waste/lap). This will place your spine in a more neutral position and significantly decrease the stress on your neck. Making it a habit to use your arms instead of your neck will save you in the long run.
3. Sleep With One Eye Open…On Your Back
Night time is when vampires are most active. Unfortunately for us humans, it is also the time when we are usually sleeping. This is why it’s important to sleep on your back. It puts your spine in a neutral position and doesn’t place an uneven load through your neck (like sleeping on your stomach or side).
Sleeping on your stomach is the worst. It just torques your neck all night and gives vampires easy access to your nape without worrying about any resistance. If you can’t sleep on your back at least try to sleep on your side. Having the proper pillow makes a big difference as well. You don’t want one too firm that places your neck into too much flexion and you don’t want one too soft that puts you into extension. You need a pillow that will support the natural curve of your neck.
4. Carry with Caution
Often times the baggage you carry can also be one of the main stresses on your neck. Try to be more aware of the load you are placing on your body when you are carrying things. It’s best to have the forces as symmetrical as possible and as close to your body as you can. This is why backpacks are much better for you than purses or messenger bags. If for some reason you cannot use a backpack, make sure you switch sides often. Habitual one sided carrrying will lead to uneven muscle tone throughout the body, possible scoliosis, and set your shoulder and neck muscles up for failure.
5. Stabilize Below the Neck
While your neck may be the target, it is important to keep everything below the collar protected as well. Giving your head a stable support surface to function off is very important in preventing chronic neck pain. I’ve seen too many cases where weak shoulder/scapula muscles force the neck musculature to compensate and overwork. So stabilizing your shoulders will help to decrease your neck pain as well as increase the amount of force you can use to put a wooden stake through a vampires heart.
2 Shoulder/Scapula Exercises
- Seated Row – Hold each rep for 10 seconds, start with 10 reps comfortable weight to start
- Prone I’s – Start on stable surface, do 1 side at a time, make sure to go slow on the way down, emphasize using your lower scapula muscles
Often times patients with chronic neck pain have imbalances and impairments much further down the chain. The thoracic spine, lumbopelvic mechanism, and hips should be assessed by a professional if your neck pain is not getting better over time.
6. Stay Loose
Dealing with the stress of living in a world with vampires can add up. Many people hold this tension in their neck. Couple this with maladaptive postural positions and you have a very dysfunctional tight neck. Stretching a couple key muscles throughout the day can have a dramatic effect in reducing/preventing neck pain.
Start with a very gentle stretch to make sure this doesn’t aggravate your neck. If it causes any pain do not perform this stretch and see your local physical therapist or physician. These stretches should be held for 30 sec to 1 min. Emphasize keeping the stretch side shoulder down throughout the stretch.
Vampires can be a real pain in the neck (sorry, couldn’t resist). Following these 6 tips will help you prevent the affliction of cervical dysfunction and immortality. Remember to seek out a healthcare professional if you have pain with any of these movements or postures and if you are not getting better.
- Obsess over your posture
- Bring objects to your face level, instead of trying to bring your face to your hands
- Sleep on your back
- Try to carry symmetrically, or at least change side every 20 minutes
- Stabilize below the neck – strengthen shoulders/scapula
- Stretch out your neck muscles to increase tissue extensibility
The main reason I do this blog is to share knowledge and to help people become better clinicians/coaches. I want our profession to grow and for our patients to have better outcomes. Regardless of your specific title (PT, Chiro, Trainer, Coach, etc.), we all have the same goal of trying to empower people to fix their problems through movement. I hope the content of this website helps you in doing so.
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