BACK IN THE EARLY 2000’S THE WORLD BECAME OBSESSED WITH THE CORE. STRENGTHENING THE CORE WOULD FIX ANYTHING INCLUDING NECK PAIN. “YOU HAD A SPRAINED ANKLE? WELL, YOU NEED TO STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE”. “SORE LITTLE FINGER YOU SAY? YOU HAVE A WEAK CORE”.
Fortunately most of us have moved on (hopefully) from the core fixing every injury known to mankind!
What we do know is that all joints in the body have their own core, or muscles that contract first to stabilize the joint, and protect it from excessive force. Hips have them (iliacus, quadratus femoris) Shoulders have them (the rotator cuff).
We sometimes call them stabilizers. Today’s topic of conversation is the ‘neck core’ or ‘neck stabilizers’.
A bit of anatomy….the “core” of the neck are your deep neck flexors and multifidus. If we remove the big bulky muscles at the front of the neck you’ll find the deep neck flexors, Longus Capitis and Longus Colli. Then if we take away the large muscles at the back of the neck, underneath we have tiny little muscles attaching from one segment to the next called multifidus. These can become very weak. Say for example you had a car crash and developed neck pain which hung around for awhile, then you might be at risk of weak deep neck flexors. If you love to stick your chin out and spend a lot of time on instagram (my wife!) this can lead to weakness in these muscles. When pain hangs around in the neck for awhile the research tells us that it tends to inhibit and weaken the deep neck flexors. Our kids are spending more time than ever on ipads, iphones and devices in general, all of which can lead to chronically poor posture and tightening of the big bulky muscles and weakening of the little stabilizing muscles. The result is neck pain and stiffness.
WHAT IS ONE THING WE CAN DO TO HELP?
Step 1: On your back. Lift one leg then the other leg, one at a time. Which is heavier? Remember which one is heavier.
Step 2: Activate your deep neck flexors. These are the deep muscles that sit on the front of the spine. Gently nod or begin to make a double chin. This is really important that you literally do the smallest movement possible. If you over do this you will make your neck worse! Now lift your leg. Does it feel lighter? If you get this contraction right you should notice a real softening of the shallow front neck muscles. If you have a good contraction your leg should also feel lighter. If it feels heavier try a lighter contraction. The lighter contraction should make it lighter if your deep neck flexors are weak. Remember the lighter contraction the better!
Step 3: Activate your multifidus. Some people may find no real change with the previous contraction of the deep neck flexors. What we can do is activate the multifidus now. This is the deep muscle on the back of the spine. To initiate a contraction here. At the level you feel the pain imagine space between the the back spinal bones of your neck or imagine a hook lifting one spinal bone away from the other at your level of stiffness or pain. Does this make your the front of your neck soft? Now lift your heavier leg. Does this make your leg lighter?
Step 4: The combination. Now try both at the same time. This works for some people and not others. Does this make your neck even softer and your leg even lighter?
Step 5: Pick a winner! Which contraction created the softest neck and the lightest leg? Was it deep neck flexors? Was it multifdus? Or was it the combo? This is the contraction you will use as your home exercise.
Step 6: Do this morning and night. Start with 6 reps of 10 second holds with 2 to 3 seconds rest between each contraction. Remember you can always use your heavy leg test to see if your contraction is a good contraction.
These muscles like all muscles require a minimum of 6 weeks practise to see growth in the muscles. That doesn’t mean you won’t see better posture and a reduction in pain sooner. It just means you need to keep progressing them week by week in order for them to grow for a minimum of 6 weeks. Remember it should always reduce your pain and make your leg lighter. If it makes something else worse in your body we recommend coming in and getting properly assessed.
If you feel your neck “core” needs some work or you want further tips on whether you have your contraction right call us on 936540004 and we will assess you and get the root of the problem.