Exercising Your ‘Neck Flexors’ Is the Little-Known Secret for Reducing Neck Pain
"When you've got good posture, your head aligns vertically with your spine," says Gbolahan Okubadejo, MD, FAAOS. "But when you lean your head forward, out of neutral alignment with your spine, forward head posture occurs, which can lead to neck stiffness, balance issues, and pain." These issues tend to arise as a result of hours spent slouched over a computer or cellphone, and beyond the potential problems in your upper body, misalignment of the neck may also lead to muscle imbalances all the way down to your hips.
Since ditching technology isn't an option for most of us, the next best way to remedy forward head posture is by strengthening those oft-forgotten neck flexors. "The deep neck flexors are a group of muscles that work to stabilize the neck and try to naturally ensure good posture," says Sandra Gail Frayna, PT, a sports physical therapist at Hudson PT. "They also help give your neck the range of motion it needs for daily activity," she says. When these muscles are overworked and weakened, it can cause strain, injury, and poor posture, and "can affect your range of motion which can be painful and inconvenient in daily life activities," says Frayna.
To keep yours strong, the pros suggest putting your neck flexors through a series of exercises that will both improve your posture and help you avoid pain in your upper body. "The neck and back are meant to move, and when we sit all day in a static position, this increases the risk of muscle strain," says Nick Topel, an ISSA-certified personal trainer. "The remedy is to schedule frequent breaks and create movement." Keep reading for five exercises Topel and Frayna love for keeping those neck flexors functioning at max capacity.
1. Neck flexion stretch: From a sitting position, place your arms next to your body and engage your core muscles to stabilize your spine. Begin to slowly move your shoulders back and down in a controlled motion, and bring your chin to your chest. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat two to four times.
2. Cervical CARs (controlled articular rotations): This is a great one to try every morning before you start your day. Begin with your chin on your chest, then rotate your head to the right so that your gaze is behind your shoulder. Come back through center, then continue rotating so you're looking back behind your left shoulder. Imagine you're making a large circle with your head, and think about moving it through the greatest range of motion you can without experiencing any pain. Repeat two to three times.
3. Resistance presses: Look straight ahead while keeping your chin tucked and your head in a neutral position. Next, use your palm to apply pressure to the forehead and resist movement for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat for three to four sets. Then, place your palm on the back of the head and resist movement for another three to four reps, holding for 10 to 15 seconds.
4. Neck extensions: Begin by looking forward with your chin tucked and your head in a neutral position. Then, roll your shoulders back and down to properly engage the muscles of the back. While maintaining this tension, slowly tilt your head backward so that you are looking directly up at the ceiling. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds, then return to your starting position with the head looking forward. Repeat for three to four reps.
5. Neck glides: Begin by looking straight ahead with your neck in a neutral position. Slowly tuck your chin and glide your head backward. Hold for five seconds. Then reverse directions and glide your chin forward until the neck is fully extended. Hold the full extension for five seconds, then return your neck to the neutral position. Repeat for six to eight reps.
For more neck stretches that can help with your posture, check out the video below.
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