If you are one of the unfortunate person’s suffering with neck pain, I highly recommend you consider exercising your neck pain away! Back in the day, it was common for your doctor to recommend bed rest (as was leaching, bleeding, etc.), however, numerous studies have proven light exercise to be far superior than rest at relieving pain. Note: the term light is both ambiguous and generalized (it’s different for everyone). So, when performing these exercises, don’t count repetitions, continue doing the exercises until you feel the muscles of the neck begin to fatigue ( a tired, crampy sensation) and then do a few more. By the end each exercise, you should feel uncomfortable but not true pain. If you can perform these exercises on a consistent basis, you will be on your way to recovery.
How will exercise reduce my pain?
First, understand most musculoskeletal injuries have a cause such as lifting, bending and twisting. And they usually resolve within a 6-8 week timeframe. So if you perform these exercises and they don’t help within a 6-8 week timeframe, it’s essential to see your doctor to rule out significant illnesses like: fracture, tumor, infection, cardiac illness, etc.
The majority of musculoskeletal pain comes from muscle spasm. The muscles react to the inflammation and act like a splint to the area. Unfortunately, the muscles overreact resulting in undue pain, immobility and physical impairment. By exercising lightly, we make the muscles contract/relax repetitively using light resistance with high repetition. Light repetitive exercise will facilitate a relaxing reflex to the muscles. By performing each exercise 2-3 times per day, you will be well on your way, to many a good day!
What do I need to get started?
An air filled playground ball. I prefer one with a semi-rough surface so you don’t slip (which could cause damage to the wall!). You may experience some mild discomfort with the exercises, but you can control the pressure applied to the neck by the amount of bodyweight you apply to the ball. If the exercises cause unbearable pain, then you need to hold off on exercises and apply ice and stretching exercises to the neck (or see your doctor).
I recommend performing these exercises 2-3x’s per week. Each exercise should be performed to fatigue (when the muscle starts to shake and burn, do 2 more). You will notice some fatigue/mild cramping sensation when finished. Stretch mildly and/or use ice if symptoms develop after exercise.
Flexion- Place the ball at forehead level and gently lean into the ball. Slowly tip the top of your head toward the ball until your chin touches your chest. Return to the neutral position. Repeat as tolerated.
Extension-Place the ball on the back of your head (no pony tails or buns). Slowly tilt the top of the head toward the ball and then return to a neutral position and repeat as tolerated.
Lateral Flexion-each side-Place the ball on the side of the head and gently lean into the ball. Slowly tip the top of the head toward the ball(ear to shoulder) as far as possible. Return to neutral and repeat as tolerated.
Rotation-Place the ball on your forehead and gently lean into it. Slowly rotate the neck left and right, keeping the shoulders still. Repeat as tolerated.
Todd R. Custer, D.C., A.T.C. – Dr. Custer is a doctor of chiropractic and certified athletic trainer, and has been rehabilitating injured athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels (Philadelphia Eagles Football Club) since 1994.
Dr. Custer graduated from Texas Chiropractic College summa cum laude, and is currently treating patients at the Better Care Chiropractic & Physical Therapy..
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