For those of you familiar with our work, the relevance of posture will come as no surprise, as you will know from our synergistic and integrative approach that we believe ‘structure governs function’. In other words if our bodies are not properly aligned our internal organs are not able to perform their functions optimally, as the energy pathways within the body become compromised leading to a series of dysfunctions. The body needs our co-operation if it is to perform the countless miracles it carries out in our name. This brief overview offers some insight into what you can do to help your body and help yourself….
What is the major reason that exercises for neck pain do not remove your neck pain permanently? Why does massage, chiropractic intervention, bowen, yoga, acupuncture etc. help you only temporarily? Why do you wake up with neck pain for no apparent reason and find you can’t turn your head?
Look no further than your forward head posture….
When you sit poorly and stand poorly you create stresses so great for your neck that it is virtually impossible for you not to suffer from neck and upper back pain. Every inch your head travels forward of the central position creates an extra 10lbs of weight on your neck structures. This means that if you are sitting here reading this without sitting upright you are probably putting anywhere between 20-40lbs of strain onto your neck!
I want you to imagine how long you could hold a 20- 40lb bag of potatoes with an outstretched arm and how much it would hurt if you had to do it for two hours, assuming you could. Your arm and shoulder would not only be screaming in pain but they would also hurt for days after that. This is what you do each and every day if you sit and stand in poor posture.
This is why neck exercises will not work whilst you are continually harming/injuring your neck and upper back every day. This is also why it is futile to get therapeutic treatments and expect to remain pain free if you continue to hurt your neck by not paying attention to your posture. Sadly this vicious cycle is all too familiar to many who either suffer from constant chronic neck pain or recurrent bouts of neck pain.
How to stop continually hurting your neck….
If you are sitting poorly, standing poorly or doing your daily activities using poor bio-mechanics you will be injuring your neck time and time again. When a person is sitting slouched with the chin jutting forwards (known as a forward head posture) they are continually straining the ligaments, muscles and discs. The ligaments surround the joints and are responsible for supporting the discs that lie between the vertebrae. After prolonged poor postural habits the ligaments can actually tear. This can then cause pain and if the person continues to have poor posture the ligaments will not heal properly. If good posture is performed this gives the ligaments a chance to heal.
Think of cutting your elbow, if you continue to bend your elbow you continue to re-open the wound and the elbow doesn’t heal. However, if you stop bending your elbow, the cut will have a chance to heal and will get better quickly. This is the same with the ligaments of your neck, stop slouching putting your neck into a forward position and your ligaments get a chance to heal- thus removing your pain. If you damage your ligaments further though, they can lose the ability to hold your discs in place and the discs may eventually bulge and can press on a spinal nerve causing pain or numbness or pins and needles in the shoulders, arms or hands. The good news is that this too can be helped using some specific exercises and adhering to good postural habits. The exercises will fast track your healing by re-aligning the discs. Try these….
Neck stretches for a stiff neck…
These are for the people who have had a stiff neck for a long time and have lost their range of movement.These exercises must be done carefully and properly in order to extract maximum benefit . The first thing that you must do is make sure that your posture is excellent at all times so that you are not repeatedly hurting your neck every day and causing pain. These exercises can be done 3 times a day every day. Sit tall in a chair (this means that you are not slouched, you are sitting upright and your lower back has an inward arch – if you do not do this your neck is being compressed whilst you are doing these exercises which is not good) and turn your head to the left as far as it will comfortably go. Hold for one second and return to centre. Repeat this 10 times then do the same for the other side. If you have no problems doing this you can also do what is called overpressure. This means that when you have turned your head as far as it will comfortably go you can use your hand to press gently onto your jaw/cheek to push it a little further around to the left or right. This is excellent in helping gain even more range of motion.
Another exercise that has proved invaluable in chronic neck cases is to once again sit tall and take your left ear to your left shoulder. You are bending your head over to the left towards your left shoulder but your must make sure that you keep your head looking forwards. It is very common for people to want to turn their heads a little as they do this because they get their head a little further down but this is wrong. The other thing that is important to do is keep lifting your head as you do this. When you bend your head to the side make sure that you have the feeling of lifting your head upwards the whole time you do this. It’s very much as if you were being pulled by a string from the top of your head. Keep that feeling of being pulled up as you bend to the side with your head.
This will keep you from compressing your joints too much and help stretch the soft tissues as well as opening up the joint spaces. Hold the stretch for 3 seconds and then return to centre. Repeat 10 times and then do the same on the other side. Do not put your hand on your head to pull it to the side as this will compress your joints! Keep the feeling of being lifted throughout the entire stretch. These two simple exercises will help you regain movement if you consistently do them on a regular basis. You must also make sure that your sleeping positions, pillows and posture are correct so that you are not exacerbating your condition.
‘Over flex’ syndrome…
This is caused by bending forward without proper care for your posture, slouching at your desk, computer, lazing without properly supporting your neck and lifting objects poorly. All these activities put your lower back into flexion rather than having the slight inward curve you should have which is called a lordosis. If you slouch or bend forwards awkwardly, this pushes on your discs pushing them backwards. Also if you slouch at your computer you have ligaments that surround the discs and these keep the discs in place and you may feel some lower back pain but it eases after you stand up and walk around for a while.
Keep these bad habits up though and the ligaments start to lose their integrity and eventually get torn and create lower back pain that doesn’t just go away after a little standing and walking about. It’s just like if you were to bend your finger backward and kept pulling it backwards- you would feel pain because you are pulling the finger against the ligaments and over stretching them. Imagine doing this for 8 hours like you do when you sit slouched at a computer or bend forwards hundreds of times a day without being conscious of your posture.
After a while the ligaments can no longer hold the discs in place and the discs may finally break through the ligaments. This is where the nerves are and they can push on the nerves, most commonly hitting the sciatic nerve causing pain, or numbness, or pins and needles down the back of the leg or buttock. To avoid this you MUST sit properly at all times, lift and bend using squat or lunge techniques to avoid hurting your back further. Use a lumbar roll when sitting to help your lower back; it’s used to help you keep the lower back arch when sitting. When you are sitting like this you are using your muscles which will get stronger over time and no longer just resting on your ligaments anymore.
There are some other important exercises that will help you strengthen your back and your core which we’ve listed below but remember exercises alone are not enough to rid your body of the aches and pains caused by poor posture. You really need to develop a mindful habit of focusing on the way that you are standing, sitting and lifting. Otherwise you will cancel out the enormous benefits that these exercises have to offer. Those of you who are familiar with pilates, callenetics, yoga and other floor work may recognise these exercises. Done correctly, they will work wonders….
The cat-camel is a warm up exercise to get your back mobile. Get down on your hands and knees and place them about shoulder width apart. Now let your head bend forward; you also arch your back upwards as high as you can go comfortably. This should give you a rounded spine. Then when you have done this you arch your back the other way as if you are trying to touch your belly button to the ground and also extend your neck so that you are now looking forwards. It is a gentle rhythmical sequence that should not cause you pain. It is designed to loosen up the spine… remember if something is painful please stop short of the painful range. Do this eight times.
This is to work your abdominals region and is the most effective exercise of its type. This will work your abs whilst putting the least amount of stress on your lower back and discs. You will notice with this exercise the hands are placed in the arch of your lower back so that you retain the arch during the curl up instead of allowing the back to flatten. This also protects your lower back from harm.
Lie face up on the floor with one leg straight and the other leg bent so that the foot is placed on the floor. Place your hands under your lower back with your palms facing down. Place your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Slowly raise your head and shoulders off the ground making sure that you are not allowing your head to push forwards ahead of your shoulders. You should feel that you have a steel rod in your spine going from your head to your shoulders and you lift your head and shoulders from the floor as one unit. Hold for 8 seconds and repeat 4 times. Once you have done this, change legs over and do another 4 sets. If you are unable to do this many, do as many as you can up to the point of fatigue. Remember that we are aiming at endurance levels so by doing this each day you will slowly build up so that you can do more and more. You want to be doing more sets of 8 seconds as opposed to trying to increase the amount of seconds you hold the curl up. Breathe deeply as you contract your abdominals. A more advanced version of this is that when you do your curl up also lift your elbows off the ground.
This exercise will work your lateral stabilizers which are crucial in giving you support for your spine. There are two ways to do this. The first is an easier version which we suggest you start with until your muscles are better conditioned. Lie on your left side with your knees and your upper body propped up on your left elbow and forearm. Place your right hand on your left shoulder and slowly raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold this position for 8 seconds, breathing deeply the entire time. Do four reps, and then change over to your right side. In the more advanced version you straighten your legs. You have your legs straight and split apart with the top leg in front and the bottom leg behind. They should be about half a metre apart.
This exercise works your lower- and middle-back extensors-the muscles that help you bend backward – the final part of your core muscles that need to be worked. Once again you need to get down on your hands and knees with them about shoulder-width apart. Slowly raise and straighten your right leg and left arm at the same time. Hold for 8 seconds, breathing deeply throughout the exercise. Lower your arm and leg straight down, and then sweep them along the floor back into the starting position. That’s one repetition. Perform four repetitions, and then change sides. The important thing to look out for here is that you are not overly arching your back when you do this. You need to keep your back in a neutral position engaging your stomach muscles as you do this. You should feel your stomach muscle contracting as you do this exercise. The other important factor is to make sure that you are not hitching your buttock up. In short, if you were to place a bar across your buttocks from one side to the other, when you lift your leg the bar should remain horizontal rather than being tipped up at an angle. You may need someone to check that you are doing it right.
Do these simple exercise every day to protect your back, strengthen your core muscles-all of your core muscles, lift properly, sit and stand tall and live up to your physical potential. Finally….
How to do lunge stretches correctly….
* From a standing position place one foot back behind you in a comfortably wide stance. Make sure you keep the back foot facing forward, do not let it turn out. You may have to look at the back foot to check because it can feel like its straight when its not.
* Bend your front knee so that your front shin is vertical, this will put your weight through your ankle and protect your knee.
* Bend both knees a little and allow the back heel to come off the ground
* Make sure your hips are facing forwards
* Ensure that your back is upright and not leaning forwards
* Your weight should be placed evenly between both feet
* You MUST tuck your backside underneath you by using your abdominals to lift your beltline up (a pelvic tilt). This decreases the arch in your lower back which will then give you a stretch through the front of your back thigh.
* Hold for 15 seconds and change sides
* Relax, breathe, smile and enjoy
* Do this several times per day to stretch out the front hip especially if you are sitting a lot
What not to do…
* bending the front knee too much which stresses the front knee
* turning the back foot out
* arching the lower back
* leaning the body forwards over the front leg instead of being vertical
* allowing the front knee to fall inwards, keep your shin vertical
* forgetting to relax, breathe, smile and enjoy
Practice doing lunges and stretches in the correct way and you will help your mobility, circulation, flexibility and increase your joy…