If I had a nickel for every client I see with neck pain, I’d be buying the Warriors. It’s way too common and very misunderstood. We blame sitting at our computers, carrying our kids, riding our bikes, and everything other than the real culprit: Our posture.
The head weighs roughly 10-12lbs and is designed to sit directly over our shoulders. When a head is correctly positioned, the muscles of the shoulders, upper back and neck work efficiently with minimal effort to keep it aligned. If the head moves forward, even if it’s just an inch from our shoulders, all the neck and upper back muscles go into overdrive to keep it from falling further. Leave it forward for hours, days, or in many cases, years, and you’ve got a situation where the neck muscles will tell you they’ve had enough.
Furthermore, when the head sits habitually forward, the cervical spine is no longer compressed evenly from top to bottom. This leads to excessive stress on the lower cervical vertebrae resulting in all the symptoms you’ve heard of before: degenerative and herniated discs, cervical stenosis, and pain.
A really easy way to check for a forward head is to stand with your heels, butt and shoulder blades against the wall. Your head should be able to easily rest against the wall without exerting any effort to keep it there. If there is any effort, strain or even pain involved in trying to bring it to the wall, then your head and neck are no longer in line with your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles and you have a posture problem!
Your head and neck don’t move forward and out of position by themselves. Since the body is a unit, you have to look at the bigger picture. They are attached to a spine, which also connects your shoulders and your hips. Therefore, to fix the forward head and neck you really need to restore the position of the entire spine by addressing the dysfunctional muscles from the pelvic girdle on up.
These exercises will begin to restore the position of your major load bearing joints in order to bring your head back over your shoulders without you consciously thinking about it.
Static Extension Position
Start on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and your hips about 3” forward of your knees. Let your stomach relax and your back sway to create an arch throughout your entire back. Let your shoulder blades come together and drop your head. Keep your elbows straight and hold for 2 minutes.
Upper Spinal Floor Twist
Lie on your side with your shoulder underneath you, your knees and ankles stacked together, and bend your hips and knees at 90 degrees. Keeping the knees together, bring your top arm up and over towards the floor as you rotate your torso in the opposite direction of your knees. Breathe deeply and hold. Let your hand and shoulder continue to drop towards the floor. Turn your head towards your open arm as far as is comfortable. Hold for 1-2 minutes and then switch sides.
Lie on your back with your arms out to your sides and your legs up the wall. Contract your thighs and push your knees towards the wall. Keep your knees and feet pointing straight ahead rather than turned out to the side. Flex your feet back towards you and hold for 3 minutes. Get as close to the wall as possible while keeping your butt down on the ground. There should be medium to no stretch in the back of your legs, so if it’s too much then scoot back until it’s more comfortable. Relax your upper back and shoulders!
I recommend doing these exercises every day for 2 weeks. Once you’ve restored the alignment and function of your hips and shoulders your head and neck will go back to where they belong.