The neck, pivotal (pun intended) for all our daily activities is often overlooked while we isolate it and work out the other parts. Its significance lies not just in the elegant curvature that complements our posture but in the profound influence it has on our overall well-being, making neck exercises a must-have in fitness routines.
“The neck is the most mobile part, because every minute it moves, rotates, and bends, we do extend to facilitate our daily activities,” says Mohammed Khan, consultant physiotherapist at SRV Hospital, Mumbai.
The role of the neck
The main role of the neck is to support the weight of our head, which can be roughly 10 to 12 pounds (4.5 to 5.5kg), and sometimes even more if we have poor posture. The neck muscles are constantly working to ensure the stability of our head. When these muscles are weak or strained, it can lead to discomfort, pain, overuse injuries and a host of other health issues which drastically impact the quality of life.
The modern lifestyle is pushing our necks into uncharted territories of strain and stress.
“Most problems arise in the neck mostly because of the overuse of the back muscles,’ also referred to as the antigravity muscles,” says Khan. “The sedentary lifestyle of the daily office worker sitting for over eight to 10 hours a day at a desk and the overuse of mobile phones throughout the day while keeping our neck in a bent over position can strain the posterior muscles of the neck and the cervical spine.”
The condition of text neck is on the rise. The issue characterized by a forward head posture and excessive stress on the cervical spine, can have huge health implications.
“This problem is seen in many today, even in children,” adds Khan. “We need to encourage awareness of good posture and posture correction for the neck. To start with, a person sleeps for six to eight hours, so we should use a proper pillow which supports the natural curve of the spine.”
Why exercise the neck?
A strong neck can reduce the risk of debilitating conditions like cervical spondylosis and chronic neck pain. Caring for our neck health is a commitment to maintaining mobility, preventing injuries, and fostering a sense of well-being and improvement.
“We need to focus on neck extension [looking up] exercises, and we have two parts, stretching and strengthening,” elaborates Khan. “Prolonged stagnant posture can stiffen up the muscles, so we need to relieve ourselves with some basic stretches for the trapezius and our antigravity muscles that hold the neck. Strengthening the cervical spinal muscles is also a must.”
This will ensure a pain-free, active, and healthy life.
Are neck exercises effective in pain relief and posture correction?
A 2013 study on the effects of neck exercise on high-school students’ neck–shoulder posture, the findings of which were published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, found that strengthening deep flexor muscles is important for the adjustment of neck posture. Maintaining their stability is required to improve neck-shoulder posture. They also confirmed that selective neck exercise improved the students’ posture and significantly enhanced the strength and endurance of their deep flexor muscles.
Another research report, titled the Effect of Neck Exercise on Sitting Posture in Patients with Chronic Neck Pain, published in the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Journal, found that people with chronic neck pain demonstrated a reduced ability to maintain an upright neutral posture when distracted by a computer task. Following intervention with an exercise program targeted at retraining the craniometric (skull) flexor muscles, those with chronic neck pain demonstrated an improved ability to maintain a neutral cervical posture during prolonged sitting. This most likely reflects an improvement in the endurance of the muscles that control the postural position of the neck during function.
Neck exercises for beginners
For most beginners looking to strengthen their neck and cervical spine, it is crucial to start with gentle exercises to avoid strain or injury. Here are some beginner-friendly exercises:
- Neck tilts: Sit or stand with your back straight. Gently tilt your head to the right, bringing your ear toward your shoulder. Hold for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the left side. Try to do it for up to 10 to 15 reps.
- Neck turns: Hold your back upright and slowly turn your head to the right, looking over your shoulder and hold for a few seconds. Repeat on the left side. Try to do it for up to 10 to 15 reps.
- Neck flexion and extension: Gently nod your head forward, tucking your chin toward your chest (flexion). Hold for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. Then, gently tilt your head backwards (extension). Hold for a few seconds and return. Try to do it for up to 10 to 15 reps.
- Neck resistance exercise: Place your hand against your forehead. Apply gentle pressure as you push your head forward, resisting the force with your neck. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat with your hand against the back of your head, resisting the backward motion. Try to do it for up to 10 to 15 reps.
- Shoulder shrugs: Stand or sit with your back straight. Slowly raise your shoulders towards your ears, then lower them. This exercise helps strengthen the upper trapezius muscles that support the neck. Try to do it for up to 10 to 15 reps. Add weights for a greater stimulus.
- The neck is the most mobile part in the body. It moves, rotates, bends and extends to constantly facilitate our daily activities.
- Modern lifestyle, where one spends over six to eight hours on the desk, and overuse of our mobiles, have paved the way for conditions like text neck
- Neck exercises have shown good results in lowering neck pain and correcting posture over time.
- Exercises like neck tilts, neck turns, neck extension and flexion, neck resistance exercises and shoulder shrugs are a good option to start with for beginners.