Neck Stretching Can Aid In The Relief And Prevention Of Pain Along With Proper Exercises
An important part of the neck exercises in part 1 of this article is the stretching here that follows. This is a specific stretching routine for the neck designed to improve the function of the cervical spine and not part of early rehabilitation stretches for the neck after injury or inflammation with arthritis.
After you have become familiar with the neck exercises (retraction and nodding), you may begin to incorporate the neck stretching as part of your rehabilitation. This will be challenging, but can produce very good results. Again, this is not for recent injury. While the initial retraction and nodding motions can be used for acute pain and headaches, this is only after inflammation is gone. Do not do these with irritation of the joints in the neck. You will feel this as increasing pain as you bend your head back. Any sharp or radiating neck pain is an indication to stop.
These stretching exercises may produce some cracking type sounds. This is not harmful as long as there is no pain. Joints that have not been mobilized in this manner may be released and scar tissue adhesions may be broken up, so some discomfort is not uncommon, but no increase in pain or symptoms. This is one of the best methods to help restore the curve in the neck. It is a process, not a quick fix. Hopefully, you have become proficient in the retraction and nodding in part 1, and this is the quick fix part to reduce pain and symptoms, but now we are taking it to the next level. Do not be upset if you cannot do these. Go back to the first part, or continue with some of the rehab exercises below and then come back to this later.
From the retracted/chin tucked in position look up and slowly extend the head back. You should feel stretching in the front of the neck. Hold this stretching position for 20 seconds then slowly rotate your head turning to the right, back to center and then to the left. Repeat the turning 5 times to each side then slowly return your head to a straight position.
It is important not to force this stretching. Let the weight of the head guide the neck stretching and do not use muscles to force the head back or to the sides.
Stop if you feel sharp pain or any dizziness. If you have any balance problems you may do the neck stretching while sitting in a stable chair.
Do not lean back or push the head forward; just tilt the head up and remember this stretching is done after the head retraction neck exercises so that the ears are over the shoulders in the start position.
When rotating the head to the sides after stretching, think of your nose turning and pointing about an inch or two from center to the right and left depending on your comfort and experience level. You may experience some crackling or popping sounds in your neck while doing the rotation stretching and this is normal, especially when first doing them.
You may use heat to warm up the neck before exercising and stretching. You should feel a gentle pull with no strain anywhere else in the body. Relax into the position and after about 10 seconds you should be able to do the stretching a little further to the full 20 seconds. Breathe slowly and deeply to aid in relaxation. Don’t overdo it. Start out doing 2 repetitions of the stretching twice per day and then increase to as needed.
As illustrated, the stretching should begin from a neutral position. Perform the cranio-cervical retraction exercise as detailed in part one of the neck exercises. Then proceed to stretching by extending the neck slowly. There should be no increase of pain. From the extended position, you can the rotate the neck slowly to the left and right. You may hear some popping or cracking sounds called crepitus which is normal. Again, no increase in pain should be noted.
As part of a daily routine and along with neck posture considerations, neck stretching, when done judiciously with quality of movement more important than quantity, can help to relieve pain and help prevent it’s recurrence.
It is important to note that the stretching presented here and in the beginning neck exercises are simple in design, but take practice and persistence to achieve desired results. Unless they cause a specific worsening of pain, stick with it. The biggest problem is not following through, however, they can be as effective as a broader and more comprehensive strength training program for chronic neck pain. According to 2008 study in the Clinical Rehabilitation Journal, strength training and stretching both can reduce neck pain disability, however, no statistically significant differences in neck pain and disability were observed between home based training regimens of either strength training and stretching or stretching alone. The biggest problem noted in achieving a long-term improvement was the training adherence was rather low most of the time. So, set a goal and commit to doing these exercises and stretching for at least 6 weeks.
In its most basic form, retract the head over the shoulders. Here, we see overpressure being placed using pressure on the chin. This should not be overdone, just slight pressure. This is straight retraction and not the nodding part. From the retracted position, slowly let the head extend back. The retraction part will not remain, however, it is done first for proper form and to make sure the extension part is produced in the cervical spine at the right location. Once in extension, you can do mini-rotations to set the extension deeper. It does not have to go past this point for basic rehabilitation of the curve. Only when this part is comfortable do the mini-rotations stretch into maxi-rotations: progress slowly and carefully.
Remember to keep your posture as good as possible. Keep the arch in your lower back and sit up tall. No slouching when doing these.
Once these exercises and stretching are mastered we can begin to do exercises to improve the function of some weak muscles associated with neck pain. Additional exercises for strengthening neck muscles: trapezius myalgia exercises, posture exercises, neck pain exercises, neck strengthening exercises and the Neck Shoulder Exercise.