Neck and back pain causes 6 million emergency room visits annually. While men are twice as likely to experience lower back pain, women are nearly twice as likely to develop neck pain, according to Donna Kauchak, who holds a master’s of science degree in exercise physiology and teaches through Etc. Exercise Inc. Just these statistics are enough to pay attention to exercises (and postures) to prevent, or help any developing, neck and back pain.
First of all, let’s take a look at how lifestyle changes affect neck and back pain. Poor diet, like eating junk food, high fat foods, etc. usually causes weight gain, which effects the load on the spine and muscles.
Lack of exercise and sedentary habits reduce range of motion and strength. Poor posture, an efficient office chair and set up, a saggy mattress (or one you don’t flip regularly), carrying heavy purses, backpacks and bags, and shoes that don’t support you can cause plenty of pain and imbalances.
Smoking cigarettes reduces circulation, which leads to a lack of muscle oxygenation. Stress and depression can both cause slumping, muscle tightening and alteration of body mechanics.
Posture And Pain
A slouched posture (head forward and rounded shoulders) results in neck compression, as does allowing your head to move, or flex, forward when driving, using a laptop, desktop computer, phone, or doing other habitual activities. This leads to muscle and connective tissue shortening, which can cause pain.
Take a side look at yourself in a mirror. As you study your posture, focus on attaining a neutral position by lining up your earlobes over your shoulder’s AC joint (the bone on top of your shoulder). The more awareness and practice you have of postural alignment, the better you’ll feel.
Stretching and strengthening exercises can also help.
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Specific strength and endurance exercises tend to work better than stretching to decrease pain and increase mobility in people who have chronic neck pain — though stretching is important.
While double chins aren’t necessarily desirable, they certainly are when you perform chin tucks. Pull your chin in, as if it’s reaching into your throat (don’t look down). Hold for 5 seconds, and repeat 10 times; do this throughout the day. This stretches the cervical extensors.
Use a Swiss ball to do cervical crunches. Balance with your shoulders resting toward the end of the ball, and extend your head back. Place your fingers at your jaw to support your neck as you bring your head up, to touch your chin toward your chest. Hold the flexed position for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10 times.
Use isometric exercises by applying resistance, with your hand, to all four sides of your head (each side, then forward and back). Hold for 5 seconds and repeat five times in each direction, resting 10-15 seconds between each muscle contraction. You can also use a small- to medium-size ball and push into a wall for resistance.
Lay down and stretch your arms over your head. Keep your shoulder blades and lower back flat, against the floor, throughout the exercise. Move your arms down, to a 90-degree angle. Repeat 10-15 times.
Stretch your trapezius muscles by gently pulling your head to the right with your right hand. Perform on the opposite side. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat several times in each direction, including forward and backward.
To stretch scalene muscles, hold onto the back of a chair and look up and into the corner (diagonal of the room). This causes your first rib to elevate, and aids proper breathing.
Core strength and strong postural muscles will help prevent, or even alleviate, pain. So, any core muscle exercises you do will assist back health. When performing back exercises, start on the floor and move to a standing position, to train yourself to remain in a proper “neutral” position.
Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet on mat. Find a neutral position by pressing your lower back into the mat. Lift your arms straight up, fingers toward the ceiling, then move them over your head, toward the floor. Progress this exercise with your hands clasped, maintaining neutral position.
In the same position on your back, with hands on your abs, raise one leg, and then the other, maintaining neutral position. Now, raise both legs, keeping your knees bent, to a 90-degree position and hold for about 10 seconds.
Now, turn over to lay on your belly with your arms at your side and tuck your chin back. Lift your chest slightly off the floor. As you get better at this, try it with your arms in a T position, and then with your arms overhead.
Then perform “superman,” by slighting raising your legs and arms simultaneously.
Next, extend your arms out, with your hands on the mat, and press up to extend your back. Avoid engaging the glutes and hamstrings and over-engaging the arms for best results for postural muscles. Repeat 10-12 times.
Perform rowing exercises by sitting on a Swiss ball. Connect a stretchy tubing to a stable object, about chest high. Keep your elbows at 90 degrees and contract the muscles as tightly as possible between the shoulder blades. Hold for 8-10 seconds, for 10 repetitions. This also opens the chest and scalenes.
Do a standing shoulder extension by attaching a stretching tube above and in front of you. Keep your arms straight throughout the entire exercise. Bring your arms up, in front of you, and then press back, just a bit beyond your hips.
Now, rest your head, shoulders and upper body on a Swiss ball, then lift your pelvis into a bridge, so you’re making a table top with your body (at 90 degrees). Lower your pelvis, then raise it again.
Then, hold a plank position by placing your feet and lower legs on the ball; don’t drop your hips.
As with any exercise program, especially ones addressing neck and back pain, consult a doctor or physical therapist to keep your body safe and comfortable.
This article was republished with permission from fitnessrepublic.com.
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