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Why Your Neck Is So Stiff - And How to Fix It

4 min read.

Lack of movement and holding a lot of tension in your neck leads to stiffness, sometimes extreme muscle pain and occasionally pulled trap/neck/shoulder muscles that keep reoccurring no matter how many massages you get.

 
On top of these muscular symptoms, a lack of neck movement can cause even more sinister things: headaches, loss of strength in an arm, loss of grip strength and even numbness down the arm or in the hand. The neck/cervical spine houses a lot of nerves and is responsible for a TON of stuff, so you want to look after it.

Each vertebra in your spine has a spongy disc between it and its neighbour, this gives your spine a lot of mobility, and allows your neck to flex, extend, and rotate in many different directions. Over the years, we tend to neglect these different movements, favouring looking straight ahead more than anything else. However, this loss of control of your ROM creates the crankiest, crunchiest, stiffest neck there is… and it can take a long time to relearn the patterns you have lost.

 
What’s really strange though is still, to this day, I meet people who believe it is bad to rotate your neck! What I often hear repeated is it causes “compression” in the discs when you extend your head back, so you should only do the “front half” of the a neck circle… but then... does that mean that looking up is dangerous too? I cannot for the life of me find any science backing up this point of view in healthy necks. Losing the ability to move your neck in that direction however… that is dangerous.

 

What are the basic movements of your neck?


 

Forward Flexion & Extension
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Lateral Flexion & Extension
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 Plus, you can have combinations of any of these: lateral flexion with forward extension combined with gentle rotation is one of the nicest feeling things in the world (ear to shoulder, then drop your chin down, then slowly look up and down) - provided you aren’t harbouring 30 years of zero neck movement.


Check out this video for some ideas and spend time experimenting with the movements first thing in the morning:

 youtubeid=VY_1XuT57Zw

 

A good reason to do this stuff in the morning is because of sleep.

 
I am always asked what “the best sleeping position” is to avoid neck and shoulder stiffness. I myself like to sleep with my right arm underneath my head... because… it’s comfy.

 
To think that you should force yourself to sleep a certain way or try to override what your unconscious body finds comfortable seems quite pointless in my opinion. Provided you move your neck and shoulders well when you’re awake, you won’t run in to any issues at all! You can sleep how you like! If your body cannot cope with being still for 6-8 hours, then it says more about your habits when you are awake than when you are asleep.

 
Here’s another one of my favourite things to do in the morning if you sleep funny or often get neck tightness. If you don’t have a resistance band, I’d recommend getting one - you have no idea how lovely jubbly shoulders can feel yet! Trust me!

 youtubeid=5POtu7KBNig

 

Is that enough?

 

Well, no, not really.

These exercises will definitely help free up your neck and get much healthier movement patterns, but you need to make sure that you integrate your relaxed neck state in to your training, otherwise you’ll just continue to strengthen your bad movement patterns. Especially be wary if you are learning anything new or doing something you find challenging; you’ll notice that you’ll readily shrug your shoulders up – your neck always tries to ‘help out’ by tensing up like crazy.
 

All you need to do is check that you can freely move your neck in any/all directions while in different positions/during different exercises. Not only is this beneficial to do avoid neck issues, but having a grasp on this will ensure you are using the most stable base possible and you are not compensating in any way - ultimately building superior upper body strength.
 

Here are a few examples of positions to assess your neck in:

youtubeid=CaDQ0hd2mrQ

Support Position

Pull ups

Push ups

Plank / Side Plank

 If you’d like to go further with improving your movement, mobility & posture, then check out the Simplistic Mobility Method!

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