Don’t let neck pain keep you down! Two of NYC’s top orthopedic specialists share tips on how to modify your workout routine to manage chronic pain.
If you’ve ever found yourself hunched over at your desk or on your couch with a stiff neck, you know how debilitating neck pain can be. Many people get the occasional twinge in their shoulders or spine, but chronic pain refers to a persistent ache you can’t seem to shake.
Chronic neck pain could be the result of something as simple as poor posture — we’ve all be guilty of slumping over our desk after a long day of work — or a more serious condition like a spinal injury or joint abnormality.
Whatever the cause of your neck pain, you’re probably ready to send it packing. What many women might not realize, however, is that their daily workouts could actually be doing more harm than good.
It’s important to strike a balance between strength-building exercises and those that improve flexibility. Above all, you should be careful to avoid movements that place unnecessary strain on the spine. Focus instead on low-impact yet rigorous exercises that work the supporting muscles in the neck.
Below are three exercises that can help ease neck pain, as recommended by orthopedic specialists Dr. Leon Popovitz and Dr. Michael Mizhiritsky. The doctors also warn against three common exercises that could end up making your pain worse.
TRY THESE MOVES AT YOUR NEXT TRIP TO THE GYM
1. Wall push-ups: Less demanding than a typical push-up, wall push-ups are ideal for those suffering from chronic neck pain. This exercise causes less strain on the shoulders and neck, while building up the muscles that support the shoulders and cervical spine.
2. Aquatic exercises: Get out your favorite swimsuit, because it’s time to hit the pool! Swimming is a great low-impact exercise that will help you stay toned without risking injury. It also helps increase blood flow to the neck, which can promote healing and reduce pain.
3. Core exercises: You’ve probably heard it before, but the core muscles provide essential support to the rest of the body, including the neck. Simple core exercises like chair stands or leg raises can help prevent your neck muscles from working overtime. Or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, try holding a plank position for 30 seconds to one minute for a full body workout!
According to neck specialist Dr. Mizhiritsky, aquatic exercises are especially restorative: “If you’re experiencing chronic neck pain, I recommend that you try aerobic and flexibility exercises. This can help you stay in shape without straining your neck as well as build up supporting muscles in your neck and back.”
BUT STEER CLEAR OF THESE EXERCISES
1. Sit-ups or crunches: Not only are these exercises less effective at strengthening your core than a plank is, but they can also strain the vertebrae in your neck. It’s best to stick to other ab workouts if you want to avoid aggravating your neck pain.
2. The military press: The military press is a standard weightlifting move, but there are plenty of other ways to strengthen your arm muscles without injuring your neck and shoulders. Try a dumbbell shrug, one arm row, or lateral raise instead.
3. Bridges: When done correctly, a bridge shouldn’t cause any neck or back pain. Many people new to the exercise, however, tend to lean on their neck, placing dangerous pressure on the cervical spine. It’s therefore best avoided by women with neck pain, unless they’ve received clear instructions from a fitness instructor on how to achieve proper form.
“There are several ways to strengthen your core and work your ab muscles without irritating your neck,” says Dr. Mizhiritsky. “I generally tell my patients to avoid traditional sit-ups or crunches, especially since leg raises can achieve a similar effect.”
Armed with this information, make sure your next trip to the gym helps, not hinders, your progress towards fitness goals. Of course, if you continue to experience pain in your upper back, shoulders, or neck, it’s important to consult with an orthopedic specialist before returning to your fitness routine.