I have been cursed with a weak neck, and so have suffered chronic neck pain and headaches most of my adult life. It does not help that it has been cranked in grappling matches and that I’ve been kicked in the head a few times in competition. Suffice to say, I have learned very well what works, and what does not for neck pain.
STOP all static stretching for the neck. This does not help! All neck movement should be kept fluid and dynamic. Intuflow is the best system I have found to work the neck and surrounding areas. Intuflow is basically dynamic mobility movements. You start with simple, linear movements, proceed to circular, then figure-8 (both planes and both directions), then finally clover leaf motions. You take all movements to the tension, NOT through it! Working through pain sends a negative feedback signal to the brain, which causes a guarding reflex on subsequent sessions. It’s fine to work through tightness, slight discomfort, but never through pain. It may take a year or more to build up to figure-8 motions, but diligent practice and consistently shaving off the tension will reap huge rewards.
So here are my top 5 exercises (which actually works out to be much more, and things other than exercise)
Linear motions at first, like up/down, side/side, tilt/tilt. Increase complexity as you feel smoother in the movements. Check out intu-flow.com for the whole body routine.
2. Dumbbell Shoulder Shrugs
This simple exercise has reduced my neck pain more than any other strength exercise. Pick a pair of moderate weight dumbbells (10-15 for women, 15-20 for men), and perform 1 set of 50 repetition. Do this every day, 7 days a week. I have worked up over the years to 2 sets of 50 with 55lbs.
3. Cable/Smart Toner High Pull
Using a cable or smart toner set to light tension perform high face pulls. The version I like best is like a bent arm rear flyer. So, not like a row. This uses more rear deltoids. Perform 1 set of 20 every day.
Do you see a theme here? A lot of shoulder stuff. The shoulders are the gateway to our neck and head. Start with supported hanging from a pull-up bar. Do not let your full weight bear down, but take some of the weight off by having the feet on something. Work up to full passive dead hangs – working up to 1 minute.
5. Posture awareness
This one is huge! How much time do you spend on the computer or your phone every day? It could add up to 15 hours a day of your head bent forward in a dangerous position. Set yourself up ergonomically correct at work, school, home office, while watching TV, texting etc. The term “organize yourself” has been used recently. Organize your body by lifting the sternum, very slightly elevating shoulders then tucking the shoulder blades into the back pocket.
Here are a couple of bonus tips. Make sure your pillow is not too high. When laying on your back, your chin should not jut forward! When laying on your side, your head should not tilt up at all, it should remain neutral. Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Finally, take a look at your sofa/TV watching chair. Is your head craned forward, or are you looking up/down to the screen? Proper posture needs to be carried over from exercise, to work, leisure time and sleep!
Unabashedly educating you on how you can win in life with your fitness, sleep, diet, and stress management.