This guest article was written for COOR Wellness by Dr. Ryan Todd Lloyd, a chiropractor in Petaluma, California.
Neck pain is the number 4 cause of disability in working adults. If you found this article, you are probably looking for ways to give your neck pain relief. One of the big problems with neck or back pain is that it tends to be recurring: You’ll get it over and over throughout your lifetime if you don’t properly take care of yourself.
In over 20 years of practicing chiropractic, taking care of neck pain patients, and most recently in my chiropractic clinic in Petaluma, I’ve been exposed to hundreds of types of treatment for neck pain. I’ve seen people get immediate results with chiropractic adjustments, and I’ve seen stubborn neck pain get better with invasive and expensive injections.
Why do neck exercises?
But nothing is more convenient and inexpensive than doing neck exercises on your own. As a matter of fact, building up the supportive muscles in your neck is a form of health insurance, and it will pay dividends in the future.
The muscles in your neck act a little different than the muscles in your arms or legs. Your biceps muscle in your arm is a “volitional” muscle first and a stabilizing muscle second. It’s made to do big, powerful movements over a short period of time. It’s easy to make your biceps muscle contract on demand.
But your neck muscles are different.
Neck muscles are postural, “shunt stabilizers.” They mostly hold on, and keep your head and neck upright. You can move them, sure, and this happens all day every day. But mostly they just react.
Try this out: Place the fingers of one hand at the base of your skull and look straight ahead. Now move your other arm up and down. You can actually feel your neck muscles react as they apply a little more power to stabilize the bones in your neck.
Wanna try a harder challenge? With your fingers in the same spot, move your eyeballs back and forth. You’ll feel your neck muscles contract as a reflex. Because when you have to look to one side normally, your eyes and neck move together.
But the problem with neck (and back) muscles is that when you injure them, they can become weak, atrophied, and scarred. They need rehab. They might even need rehab if you have a sedentary job, and you’re starting to develop neck pain.
Won’t chiropractic care alone be enough for my neck?
Chiropractic adjustments are excellent for neck pain. I’ve seen it over and over where someone comes into my office with neck pain, and I adjust them, and the pain is magically gone. Chiropractic care allows your neck to instantly move better, through the full range of motion again. Improving your neck motion this way will allow you to retrain your postural reflexes so the muscles hold you better.
But the magic gets better and better if you can exercise your neck muscles too.
Chiropractic adjustments provide a better foundation of movement, while exercises teach your supportive muscles to hold better.
Can’t I just pay attention to my posture for my neck pain?
Paying attention to posture is also part of the plan. But paying attention to posture is hard when you have weak and vulnerable neck muscles. And it’s hard to do if you need chiropractic adjustments to restore normal pain-free motion.
One thing’s for sure if you are going through a chiropractic care plan, and you are doing your exercises, then you’ll want to top it off by paying attention to your posture.
Here are the traditional neck exercises.
Traditionally when you go to a chiropractor, and he goes over neck exercises as he should, you’ll get some of the good old standards. And most of these are deeply rooted in the scientific literature as being helpful:
- Chin tucks (neck glide)
- Neck extension
- Neck rotation
- Lateral extension
- Shoulder shrugs
- Tilted forward flexion
- Deep stretching
- Resistance presses
- Towel pull
- Theraband resistance
- Deep neck flexors against a blood pressure cuff
- Upper trapezius stretch
- Doorway stretch
- Scapular squeeze
- Wall push up
- Theraband rows
- “Blackburn” exercises
- Y, W, T on a Swissball
- The Iron Neck!
Here’s the one neck exercise you need to do:
We’ve taken all of the exercises on that list, and we’ve made it super simple for you.
Basically, with any body part that you need to exercise, you’re going to want to exercise it through it’s range of motion, with resistance through that range of motion. I’ve done this for the neck, and I found the perfect tool for it.
You’re going to need to buy a piece of equipment. You’re going to need to buy a *nice* kickball, not the cheap kind.
My favorite ball for the kickball exercise is the WAKA Youth Kickball, 8.5”. I only provide a link to make it easy to buy one. It’s the one I prefer because it’s got a nice rubbery tack to it. It’s like a high-quality theraband for your head and neck.
You can buy other brands, but I know this one is good quality.
Isometric Kickball Exercise:
To do these exercises properly and safely, you start by doing an isometric exercise. “Isometric” means nothing moves. You place your kickball against the wall, and you push against the ball, applying pressure against the ball with the back of your head.
You can use a lot of pressure with this one. (But as always, use caution when doing rehab exercises.)
Isotonic Kickball Exercise:
After you do the exercise isometrically, then you would do them Isotonically.
Isotonic means that you move your neck, and you use the same “tone” throughout your range of motion.
This is a great way to influence the strength of your muscle fibers through the whole range of motion of your neck.
Your neck is in flexion? Still using those muscles.
Your neck is in extension? Still using those muscles.
I like this exercise so much because it also helps you influence *the mobility* of your neck. When you guide your range of motion with the ball, you are coming up against the end range of your current motion, but you might have a little bit more to go with a little help. Sometimes when you are pushing through your neck range of motion, you feel like you’re hitting an unnatural barrier. The ball helps you push through that.
Next Steps for neck pain relief and posture maintenance.
As with any rehab exercise involving your spine, you should consult with a chiropractor before you do these. They’re pretty safe to do if you’re healthy and pain-free, but you want to get a proper diagnosis from a chiropractor who specializes in neck pain relief.
If you have neck pain, I can’t imagine going to any other provider other than a chiropractor who has a network of other types of providers he or she can refer to. It’s always best to start conservative and work your way up to more invasive treatments, if necessary. A chiropractor’s spinal adjustments and your home kickball neck exercises are your best choice for conservative care.