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If you’re experiencing regular bouts of neck pain, or you’re having constant pain or aching in the neck due to a disc issue, you may be looking for some effective stretches you can do that will help the problem. When visiting physios or doctors, they may recommend you to do some stretches without fully explaining why these are beneficial or why they will help your problem. Today, we’ll be discussing three stretches: two that will be beneficial, and one that will not be helpful. Ironically, the unhelpful stretch is often one that comes highly recommended for disc problems.

Hopefully, you’ll understand exactly why you’re doing these exercises, and the benefits that can be had from them, rather than just blindly going in and doing an exercise simply because you were told to. That’s one of the things that’s so important to us when patients come here, so they understand why they’re doing something, even in a simplistic manner, because that means they’re more likely to do the exercises and be committed to spending time everyday completing them. It’s also important to not get confused with conflicting advice on the internet, if at least you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’ll understand its relevance to you and if it’s right for you.

The Exercise To Avoid

The first exercise is the one you should really be avoiding. This is a classic forward head stretch – essentially pulling the head forwards to one side to stretch the muscles along the side of the neck and shoulders. In a lot of cases, the degree to which a patient has neck pain will be influenced by the degree to which that person’s head goes forward. With growing smartphone usage, slouching while you’re at your desk at work as you lean forward to look at your computer, or in the evenings watching Netflix or on your computer, all of these things if they’re not done with your posture in mind, can cause you to remodel your neck into a consistent forward head posture. As your head sits more forward, it increases the compressive loading on your spine because it’s deviated from a ‘normal’ alignment that can effectively distribute the loading from your head that gravity places on it everyday. This compression causes inflammation, while putting more stress on the muscles around your neck as they’re being stretched forwards. If you acknowledge whether you have a forward head posture, doing that forward head stretch only serves to stretch those muscles even further. You’ll also be further compressing the discs in your neck, which will already be under more compression than normal because your alignment has shifted and is already putting them under pressure.

Why Is This Stretch Recommended?

So why is this stretch so highly recommended? The inflammation that occurs from your head having shifted forwards, stems from where the nerves exit from your spine. There are little holes that your nerves exit from, so performing a forward stretch will make that hole bigger, which will alleviate some of the pressure on that nerve. The consequence of this, is that it will put more stress on the discs, which are most likely injured in the first place because your head goes too far forward. It also stretches muscles that are already stretched beyond their normal capacity, so that’s also not helpful. Exercises like this are often recommended without a full understanding or grasp on what stresses and strains are affecting your neck, for example if imaging hasn’t been performed where it perhaps should be to give a clearer indication as to what’s causing the patient’s problem, or posture hasn’t been taken accurately into account. Sometimes an exercise may be beneficial, but only in the very short-term. If an exercise has been prescribed and the patient continues to perform it for the next six months they risk making the problem worse.

What Stretches Are Beneficial?

Now onto two exercises that you will benefit from, that you can do in the following order. The first uses an exercise band, or a strap of some sort, and we’ll be trying to take the pressure off the discs at the front. As we said earlier, if you’ve got forward head carriage you’ll be compressing those discs much more than they would normally, leaving them susceptible to bulging or herniation. Using this exercise, you’ll be opening up space on the discs from the front, which effectively alleviates the pressure on those structures that are causing inflammation. This targets the problem at the very root cause, rather than the consequence of your neck pain. To perform this stretch, you’re going to hold a band firmly at either end, place the middle at the back of your neck and very gently and slowly, pull forwards on the band and at the same time look back. Our video at the top goes through a visual demonstration of how to perform the exercise, which you should watch to make sure you’re performing the exercise properly. If you go excessively fast on this exercise, you’ll stand a chance of injuring yourself and won’t get the benefit of the exercise. Work within a small range of motion and a gentle pumping. In terms of repetitions, do around 15 and move onto the next exercise.

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A Stretch To Alleviate Pressure

Exercise number two should be done lying down. If you’re suffering with neck pain, lying in a particular position can alleviate the pressure on the spine because it takes the weight of gravity bearing down on you away. Just lying in bed may not be the right kind of position because you may use too many pillows, which can prop up the head and put more stress or strain on the neck. Instead, you’ll be lying on your back with a controlled amount of support under the neck, to allow the natural arch to again open up disc space and continue the mobilisation you’ve just started with the band. For this exercise you’ll need a towel, which you’ll need to roll up to about the thickness of a water bottle. Again, we demonstrate this in the video using a Voss branded bottle as this is around the right size for what you’ll need. While lying down place it underneath your neck in the middle, so your head is looking away from your body. It should not be thick enough that you’re looking towards your body, but rather it should be putting an arch through the neck. This will stretch out the muscles on the front of the neck, which are often ignored. Hold in this position for around 2-5 minutes, no longer.

These two exercises in combination with each other will actually help to address the underlying cause of those issues with your neck pain. Of course, with any exercise, try them a couple of times for a day or two, or even three days, and if you’re not getting any substantial relief then it is recommended that you seek the help of a back or neck pain specialist who will be able to provide you with an accurate diagnosis as to why your neck is causing you a problem, provide treatment that will offer you relief as well as a guided rehabilitation program. If you’re based in the London area, you can either call us on 0203 947 3222 or email us at info@themayfairclinic.com to speak with a member of the team about your case.