Exercise Mistakes that Can Get Your Neck into Trouble

1
When Back Exercise Meets Neck and Shoulder Pain

A woman does a core strengthening exercise that puts her neck at risk for strain.
A woman does a core strengthening exercise that puts her neck at risk for strain. JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

Exercise Mistakes that Can Get Your Neck into Trouble

Many people are so gung ho to strengthen their core that they forget about their neck posture.  But taking the time to learn how to position your neck – and your whole body for that matter - before getting too deeply into an exercise program – particularly one that is designed to help stabilize your core -  may help you avoid a painful cervical spine injury later.

Related:  Common Neck Injuries

2
Avoid Neck and Shoulder Pain during Exercise - Know Your Limits

A man does a body weight only exercise.
A man does a body weight only exercise. PeopleImages.com/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Avoid Neck and Shoulder Pain during Exercise - Know Your Limits

The first tip for keeping your neck and shoulder out of pain during exercise is to know your limits and respect them. 

Although our culture is replete with images of beautiful bodied women and men sporting slick six pack abs and gorgeous, muscular legs as they seamlessly make their way through advanced gymnastic routines (at least that’s what it looks like to the rest of us), and that these displays are often intended as examples for the rest of us to follow, if you’re like most people, you’ll need to begin at the beginning.

This means choosing the weights and types of movements that you can handle without breaking your form.  In fact, it means becoming familiar with form in the first place.   Making an appointment with a physical therapist to get started is a good idea if you have an injury.  If you don’t, consider asking a personal trainer for help.

And instead of loading yourself up with weights – whether they are free weights or those on gym machines – consider starting your program with body weight exercises, and progressing from there.  This is especially relevant if you’re a beginner, a senior, you’re injured or you’re obese (or any combination of these.)

In fact, a 2009 study published in the journal Geriatric Gerontology International found that a body weight exercise training program can be very effective for developing lower body power in elderly people.

Interested in trying body weight exercise training?  About.com's Exercise Expert, Paige Waehner, shows you how. Best Body Weight Exercises

Source:

Yamauchi J1, Nakayama S, Ishii N. Effects of bodyweight-based exercise training on muscle functions of leg multi-joint movement in elderly individuals. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2009 Sep;9(3):262-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0594.2009.00530.x.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19702936

3
Avoid Neck and Shoulder Pain during Exercise - Keep Your Movements Pure

A senior woman exercises her back using a resistance band.
A senior woman exercises her back using a resistance band. MartinaOsmey

Avoid Neck and Shoulder Pain during Exercise - Keep Your Movements Pure

The 2nd tip is to keep the movement pure.  In other words, if the exercise you’re doing is supposed to be an arms out and in movement, or a bend forward and then come back up movement, check to be sure that you’re not also adding a twist or tilt.  It’s very easy to allow this kind of tilting or twisting to happen when you’re not paying attention to your posture or form, so awareness is key.

Keeping the twist out of exercise movements that don’t call for it is important because neck or back injuries can be brought on by rotation when the spine is also loaded.  Examples include using free weights, where you’ll need to use core muscles and good trunk positioning to stabilize your posture, instead of almost having it done for you by a gym machine, and smaller workout aides such as a resistance band which, believe it or not, can put load into your spine.

Related:  What is a Posterior Pelvic Tilt, and Why Does It Matter to Your Back Health?

4
Avoid Neck and Shoulder Pain during Exercise - Align!

A boy does a chin up with bad neck and shoulder form.
A boy does a chin up with bad neck and shoulder form. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc./Blend Images/Getty Images

Avoid Neck and Shoulder Pain during Exercise - Align! 

Too many times neck alignment is sacrificed in the name of number of reps, type of exercise or amount of weight lifted.

Common examples include doing a lat pull down in back, where to get the bar all the way to your shoulders you move your head and neck forward, and chin ups, which similarly, can necessitate dropping your head back to make room for the bar as you come up.

For the lat pull down machine, consider staying with the bar in front only.  (This may work your abs a little more anyway.)

In general, remember that for good exercise posture, the head is an extension of the spine.  It shouldn’t be positioned forward or back of the rest of your trunk, as this is an invitation to strain or sprain.

Related: Stretch Your Hip Muscles to Help Relieve Back Pain

Continue Reading