Welcome back, it is Rick Kaselj.
I got a question from a reader:
Should You Do Neck Stretches if You Have Neck Pain?
Before I answer that question specifically, let me explain why we stretch the neck if you have a neck injury and neck pain.
Why Do We Get You to Stretch Your Neck if You Have Pain or an Injury?
The first reason is we want to increase the range of motion – that’s how much movement you have in the neck. This is vital when it comes to fully overcoming a neck injury and pain. Having full range of motion helps all the tissues in the neck to heal properly and prevents any compensation movements from other joints due to a loss of range of motion in the neck. One of those compensation movements is greater stress on the shoulder, which leads to shoulder pain.
The second reason is to decrease neck muscle tension. With a neck injury or neck pain, you end up building muscle tension for the muscles to guard or brace the injured area in order to prevent further injury.
Different Types of Neck Pain Stretches
Let me explain the two different types of stretching techniques that I end up using for neck pain and injury.
#1 – Active Range of Motion (AROM) or Dynamic Stretching
I will end up doing dynamic stretching or active range of motion. For example, one of them is to rotate your head to the side, to the point where you feel light resistance (you should feel no pain during the movement). Now hold the end position for a second and then come back to the start. I will get clients to do a number of repetitions while still being in good postural alignment.
And what the client will end up noticing is the range of motion will gradually increase and that resistance point will become further and further away with each repetition. It ends up being a fine balance, however. If you push too hard and irritate the muscle, it will lead to an increase in neck pain and a decrease in movement.
Here is a little video of me chatting about different neck movements:
That’s the first technique that I use.
#2 – Static or Passive Stretch
The second technique is a passive stretch.
Passive or static stretch is when you hold the neck in a specific position where the muscles are lengthened (and will feel a light stretch), in order to assist in those muscles being lengthened.
This type of stretching is the most common type of neck stretching you see for neck injuries and neck pain.
An example of a static stretch is this: rotate the head to the side and bring the muscles to the point that they are being lightly stretched. When you get to that light stretch point you will hold the position for a period of time. A lot of times it might be 30 seconds, 1 minute or 2 minutes.
What I do that is different is go against the grain when it comes to how long someone stretches.
Everyone is going to differ on how long they end up holding that stretch.
The key thing that you are looking at is when do you feel the muscles relax? When you feel the neck muscles relax, you can discontinue the stretch. For some people that might end up taking 5, 10, 20 or 30 seconds.
Let me explain the relaxing of the neck muscle being stretched. You will bring the muscle to a stretch position. As you hold the stretch and do not change the position you are in, you will feel the muscles lightly relax to a point you won’t feel the stretch any more. It is a small lengthening of the muscle. This is when your neck stretch should end.
The second point depends on what your tissues can tolerate. If someone has injured their neck or has neck pain, they might move it into a stretch position, but can only handle 5 seconds. Forcing them to hold it for 30 seconds, a minute, or two will just flare things up (increase neck pain). It’s better to stretch the muscles in a point of comfort, even if it’s not 30, 60 or 120 seconds. If it’s just 5 seconds you can still build on that. And then more advanced the technique is, when you feel that muscle relax you can move to the starting position of the stretch and move to the other side, or move on the next exercise.
Here is a video on a passive stretch of the Upper Fibers of Trapezius (UFT):
Finally getting to the answer of that question:
Should You Do Neck Stretches If You Have Neck Pain?
We end up getting people with neck injuries and neck pain to stretch too much.
The focus ends up being way too much on stretching and way too much focus on passive stretching.
I would suggest focusing more on active or dynamic stretching.
The second thing is its more important to strengthen those muscles in the neck. What our body ends needs is for us to hold our head in place as opposed to being super flexible and have super human movement when it comes to the neck.
So that’s it.
Thank you very much for watching and reading.
Head on over to exercisesforinjuries.com if you are looking for resources when it comes to exercise and injuries, especially if you are a fitness professional or a health professional.
And if you are a neck pain or neck injury sufferer, you can head over to neckpainsolved.com. That’s the exercise program that I get my clients to go through.
Here is what the Neck Pain Solved Program looks like:
Until next time.
Rick Kaselj, MS
Here are some other videos on neck pain and injury that maybe of interest to you:
What to do About Neck Pain from Sleeping?
Why Exercise is Making Your Neck Pain Worse?