With a general fitness or workout routine that’s not therapeutic in nature, most people tend to focus on overall tone. Others may turn their attention to abdominal muscles, hamstrings, pecs, obliques, or core muscle groups that support the spine and trunk. However, an equally essential area to target when putting together a total body workout or fitness routine is the cervical spine and the soft tissues that support it. Here’s a closer look at why neck exercise matters.
Your Neck Absorbs More Stress Than You Realize
The sternocleidomastoid and the trapezius are the primary neck muscles that handle movements of the head and neck. These two muscles alone play a major role in moving the head in every direction and bringing the skull and jaw toward the spine. Exercising neck muscles like these and others in the same area is also important because the neck absorbs stress from:
- The shifting weight of the head
- Regular neck twists and turns
- Activities that involve standing and bending the neck, such as preparing meals or doing the dishes
Neck Exercises Increase Circulation
Exercise naturally increases circulation, which is good for the entire body. With the neck, good circulation is important because it promotes tissue healing and boosts the flow of beneficial nutrients to the neck and its discs, blood vessels, and soft tissues.
Exercise also increases the production of endorphins, a chemical produced by the central nervous system and pituitary gland that has effects similar to mild pain relievers, which can be helpful if you’re living with mild neck pain. You may even be able to minimize your use of over-the-counter and prescription painkillers by doing controlled neck exercises.
Regular Exercise Helps with Neck/Upper Spine Posture
Whether it’s constantly craning your neck to use devices or slouching in your chair at work, poor neck posture can come from many different sources. One source is weakened muscles that directly or indirectly support the neck. If supportive tissues are weak, you are more likely to have issues with herniated discs or pinched nerves. Stronger neck muscles, on the other hand, are also more likely to help you maintain a proper posture as you stand and sit throughout the day. Neck exercises that can help with posture include:
- Chin tucks – The simple motion of pulling your head downward can strengthen the upper thoracic extensors. Strengthening these muscles can restore your head-shoulder alignment.
- Prone cobra – Done by lying face down on a rolled-up towel as you pinch your shoulder blades and lift your forehead slightly, this advanced neck exercise helps with posture by strengthening the muscles in the shoulder girdle, neck, and upper back.
- Back burn – The purpose of this postural exercise is to strengthen the back muscles that provide support to the neck.
Routines that specifically target neck muscles can range from mild to intense. Even if you’re not currently experiencing neck pain, it’s still important to be mindful of the way you stimulate tissues, bones, and discs within this area. It’s also best to err on the side of caution and avoid any movements that place too much stress on these parts. If you do experience unexpected pain following workouts or exercises that include your neck, take a break or modify your routine. See your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon if discomfort continues for more than a few days or if it gets worse.
If you have chronic neck pain that isn’t going away, there’s a chance you might need artificial disc replacement surgery. Santa Monica residents should reach out to The Spine Institute to have their pain diagnosed and determine an effective plan for relief. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.