After low back pain, the most common complaint found at most physiotherapy centres is that of neck pain, with or without accompanying headaches. The types of pain felt can range from localised discomfort that are a deep ache in nature, to shooting pains up into the head and down into the shoulders.
Poor posture and increased amounts of time spent at the computer or on mobiles phones have contributed to the additional volume in neck pain cases. Fortunately there are some simple exercises you can do in order to alleviate symptoms.
1. McKenzie Chin Tucks
This exercise is most easily performed lying on your back to begin with in order to learn the correct technique. Ensure that your head is facing directly forwards, not looking up behind you or down towards your chest. Relax completely and slowly draw your chin inwards towards the floor (as though attempting to give yourself a double chin). You should feel tension either deep in the back and/or front of the neck.
The trick here is to control the movement so that it is most effective. Slow and steady movements are much better than trying to push through as many repetitions as possible. Repeat 10-15 chin tucks and then relax. Try for a total of 3 sets.
Once you have mastered the technique, it can then be performed in sitting, making a great exercise to do at the office, whilst stuck in traffic and whilst watching tv. No equipment required.
2. Scapula Squeeze
Although not specifically a neck exercise, the scapula (shoulder blade) squeeze aims to strengthen the back muscles which are commonly weak in people with neck pain. The effect straightens the back and corrects the person’s posture, placing the head more directly over the neck and body, as opposed to being further forward.
In order to perform the exercise, which can either be done face down or in standing, place your arms in a “don’t shoot” position. Concentrate on a point directly between your shoulder blades and by contracting the muscle at that point, attempt to make your shoulder blades touch. Hold for 3 seconds and relax. Repeat 10 times for 3 sets.
In order to progress the exercise, hold the squeeze for longer or add held weights when lying on your front to increase the exercise’s difficulty.
3. Trapezius Stretch
The third exercise is a stretch for the trapezius (particularly the upper fibres), a superficial muscle that begins at the base of the skull, fans out in a diamond shape to the shoulders and finishes at the bottom of the diamond in the middle of the back. The upper fibres contribute to all the neck’s range of motion and in people with neck pain, are often particularly tight.
In order to stretch these upper fibres, sit comfortably and place one hand behind your head. With your hand, slowly pull your head down towards your chin, hold for 30 seconds and relax. For the next parts of the stretch, rotate your head and pull it down towards your shoulder, holding the stretch 30 seconds for each side.
Doing each of these actions will ensure that all the upper fibres of trapezius are targeted, allowing them to relax and preventing the built up tension in that muscle from causing headaches.