The Deep Neck Flexors. A permanent cure for elusive neck pain.
A year ago I woke up one morning with a horrible indescribable pain in my neck. The previous day I had worked on the computer for hours for my real estate job using cheap furniture and poor ergonomics. I also worked out maybe a little bit too hard for someone who had been pretty lazy for the last few months in the winter. On top of all that I had already promised to help a friend move that day. Maybe the biggest regret of my life is following through on that promise. Later that day after the move my pain became so bad, I literally had to go into bed and that’s where I stayed for several days.
A year later and after 10 to 20 different doctor visits, MRIs ,x-rays ,blood tests physical therapists appointments, and 1000 YouTube videos or more — I am happy to say I found real help for my neck pain. The past 365 days have been my personal hell to be quite honest. No matter what I did , no matter how many hours of exercise, Vitamins, posture changes, ergonomic office furniture I bought — nothing seemed to work. I was in constant pain and there is no way out. It was without a doubt the most difficult year of my life, and admittedly there were times where I thought maybe I couldn’t keep going. It also led me to believe that maybe I had more serious health issues that couldn’t be diagnosed. The stress from which was even more concerning than the neck pain itself.
The light at the end of the tunnel has to do with a little known Group of muscles on the front of the neck called the deep neck flexors. When dealing with a neck injury , The go to exercise physical therapist prescribe is the classic chin tuck. This is commonly described as “moving the head straight back.” The problem with this exercise is it puts stress on the wrong muscles on the side of the neck ( SCM muscles ). These muscles are usually overworked and do not need further exhaustion. In addition, strengthening of muscles on the upper back and shoulders will not fix the problem entirely in most cases.
The deep neck flexor‘s, are on the front of the neck underneath the throat. They are responsible for pushing the head back. Although the rear and side neck muscles as well as upper back muscles contribute to this, the deep neck flexor‘s are far more important as a strong base for a successful recovery. Steps to the exercise to work the deep neck flexor‘s are as follows:
- Lay down preferably on a carpeted floor/yoga mat/exercise mat.Use a folded hand towel to to make it more comfortable for your head to rest on.
- Perform a chin tuck (there are hundreds of videos of this online) straight back into the floor however angle your chin slightly down as if to touch your Adams apple or middle of your neck. your head should never leave the floor. This is a slight rotation down instead of just going straight back. if you feel your SCM muscles activate(The big muscles on the side of your neck that you can grab) you’re doing it wrong And need to stop! If you stress out these muscles further you’re going to make your neck pain worse.
- The movement, when done correctly, is very slight. It is as if you’re nodding down a little bit. Again your head should stay resting on the towel and not lift up. You will know you’re doing it properly when you feel your throat or middle of your neck sort of harden and the side of your neck remains soft and unstressed. The middle of your neck tightening means your deep neck flexor’s are working.
- Perform 10 repetitions with no hold time. Only back-and-forth getting used to the motion. Slowly! One good rep is A big step forward versus 10 rushed mediocre ones. As you progress you can hold for two or three seconds but there is a little need to hold longer.
Strengthening these muscles will enable you to push your head back and bring your spine into alignment more subconsciously &without stressing other muscles. You will notice if you had upper back pain or shoulder pain it is relieved since now the deep neck flexor is are contributing to holding your head in the correct position. The best part about this exercise, is that it is your key to performing further Strengthening of the body such as thoracic spine Mobility drills, and ab exercises.You should notice that you will just generally have less neck pain doing physical activity.
It’s really quite Sad that this is not more widely discussed. Many people are living with neck pain spending thousands of dollars on treatment and going through unnecessary chiropractic work or maybe surgery even when they can replace all that with a 30 second exercise. Of course everyone is different and this will not work for all people but if you’re having neck pain and you feel weakness in your neck this is definitely worth a try. If I can even help one person with this method, then I feel this post was worth it!