The neck is becoming an increasing common source of pain and
discomfort for many people in the general population. Both acute and chronic
neck pain can be distressing and can interfere with many activities of daily life.
In the majority of cases, neck pain should resolve on its own with time. In
some cases, however, we can attribute our ongoing pain to changes in our
posture and the way we carry ourselves in daily life.
The ever-growing postural demands of daily living can often
contribute to a significant proportion of the neck pain we experience. Our
repeated postures such as those we adopt when sitting in cars, in offices or
working on computers, can often lead to the discomfort experienced by everyday
people. Alternatively, we can also experience neck pain secondary to slips,
trips or falls or following traumatic injuries like road traffic accidents, which
can often result in a whiplash injury to the neck.
Common symptoms associated with both acute and chronic neck
pain include; pain localised to the back of the neck and upper shoulders,
stiffness and difficulty moving the neck freely as well as things such as
tension-type headaches or a feeling that the head has become very heavy and
difficult to hold upright.
In people with both traumatic and atraumatic neck pain, we
can often identify a deficiency in strength of important muscles that act to
support and hold your head in a position of low stress. When these muscles
become underactive, we begin to overload alternative muscles, which is when we
can begin to experience neck and shoulder pain. When we hold good head and neck
posture, we reduce the strain on the joints and muscles of the neck, reducing
our potential to experience pain or discomfort.
If we were to look at a drawing of the head and neck in a textbook,
we identify the natural curves of our upper spine. This is what we refer to as
the neutral position for the cervical spine (neck). We have specific muscles
deep within our neck, which are responsible for maintaining this neural, low
stress position. These muscles are called our deep neck flexors, and sit beneath
our chin on the front side of the neck.
In people with neck pain, both acute and chronic, we often
see these deep neck flexors become weak, and underactive. This means that their
ability to support and move the head is reduced, which in itself can lead to pain
and discomfort. People can often adopt a ‘poking chin’ posture, where we no
longer hold the head and neck in the position of low stress. This posture is
often related to weakness in these deep neck flexors, as they are not drawing
the head into an optimal position.
Pilates can be an excellent form of strengthening for these
deep neck flexors, as we incorporate correct positioning and activation for
these muscles through many different exercises and positions.
By addressing the deep neck flexors, and encouraging these
muscles to become more active, we are able to increase support around the head
and neck, improve posture and with ongoing practice, help reduce discomfort
associated with deep neck flexor weakness.
In Pilates, we ensure the deep neck flexors are engaged
using verbal cueing techniques. Throughout the duration of your Physiolates
class, your instructor will encourage and remind you to engage your deep neck
flexors and maintain good neck alignment. This includes cues such as imaging
you are holding a small piece of fruit underneath your chin. Alternatively,
imagine you have a piece of string attached to the back of your head and someone
is gently pulling it towards the ceiling. By following these cues, we are
lengthening the neck, drawing the chin gently in towards the chest and engaging
those deep neck flexors.
Through repeated practice, we can improve the strength of
the deep neck flexors and encourage carryover of better head and neck posture
into everyday activities such as prolonged computer work and driving. However,
these improvements in head and neck posture are also beneficial for all daily
activities well as improving general sport and recreational activity
Some exercises that are great for activating and
strengthening the deep neck flexors include:
- Swan dive
- Abdo prep
- Oblique prep
- Hundreds Level 4 and 5
Maintaining good strength in the muscles of the neck is
important with the growing demands and static postures of daily activities. If
you suffer with neck pain, Pilates, and more specifically, deep neck flexor
strengthening may help improve your symptoms.
For further information regarding our Physiolates classes or
to speak to one of our Physiolates instructors, please do contact us on 0330
We hope to see you in one of our classes soon!