Georgio Baylouny, PT, DPT, OCS
Physical Therapist in New York, NY
Have you ever woken up with a crick in your neck? Have trouble turning your neck to one side, or lifting it up like you’re looking up at the ceiling? Maybe you’ve been dealing with this for a while and neck stiffness has been on and off in your life for years.
If so, you’re not alone. Neck pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal complaints in the adult population. In fact, it’s estimated that 54% of us have experienced some sort of neck pain in the last 6 months! And half of those people will have symptoms for up to 12 months!
Whether you’ve woken up with a stiff neck before or have had neck trouble for years – this blog will teach you three easy mobility exercises to ensure neck stiffness won’t get in the way of your workout.
Why Does Neck Stiffness Happen?
This is a great question! And one that doesn’t have a clear answer. Neck pain and stiffness is a complex condition with several associated risk factors including: ergonomics and inadequate prolonged postures, repetitive activity, increased age, low job satisfaction, stress and anxiety, and poor sleep hygiene.
Where is the Neck Pain Coming From?
All of the structures of the neck – including the facet joints (joints between each vertebrae), discs, ligaments, and soft tissue – are all capable of being the “generator” of pain. Believe it or not, we don’t have to know exactly which structure is “causing” the pain to treat the problems we see.
In this blog, we’re primarily talking about “mechanical neck pain”, AKA neck pain with mobility deficits. This means neck pain that usually 1) is on one side, 2) presents with stiffness in certain directions, 3) can go from the neck down to the mid back or shoulder blade, and 4) does NOT cause any headaches, numbness, tingling, or weakness.
Mobility Exercises for a Stiff Neck (VIDEO BELOW)
Cervical Retraction with Extension
Keep your neck tall. Gently tuck your chin and retract your neck (as if your head and face are sliding back like a drawer). From there, look up as high as you can while maintaining the neck retraction.
The key is to feel the mobilization happening at the base of the neck into the upper thoracic area.
Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs) with a Towel
Grab a small towel and roll it up. Place the towel around the base of the neck while gently pulling it forward with your hands. From there, sideband, rotate, and extend your neck like you’re making “neck circles”.
Repeat 5x in each direction.
The key is to make the “biggest circle you can make” with your neck. A little bit of pain is OK as you push into the painful or restricted area.
Cervical Retraction with Rotation
Retract your neck like in the first video. Instead of looking up, you’re going to rotate as far as you can while maintaining a retracted neck. Rotate towards the painful or limited side.
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