Neck strain after exercise is fairly common, and while poor form plays a role (more on that later), it’s less about what you do in the gym than what you do in your daily life that’s at the root of your pain, he says. Sherry McLaughlina physical therapist and founder of the Michigan Institute for Human Performance (MIHP) in Troy, Michigan.
To understand neck strain, McLaughlin says, you first have to understand the concept of short, compressed muscles versus long, weak muscles. “Every muscle in the body has an antagonist, and it is a muscle that does the opposite work. If the muscle is short and compressed, then the antagonist becomes long and weak,” she says. “Think of a typical seated position where a person is slouching. In this position, the head moves forward, and in order to engage the world at the level of the eyeballs, your neck will naturally extend.”
Ultimately, this type of posture makes the muscles in the back of your neck short and narrow, and the muscles in the front of your neck long and weak. If you do an exercise or other exercise that requires lying on your back, those muscles on the front of your neck are the ones that need to work to lift your neck. “If they’re in this vulnerable position, your neck will feel tense and vulnerable to injury,” says McLaughlin.
Not taking time to rest your muscles and improper form can also lead to neck strain, says Janine Trembecki, ACE-certified personal trainer and owner at J Ashley Fitness, in Westport, Connecticut. “With my training,” she says, “the neck strain I see a lot is from overusing the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Other causes can be shoulder tension while performing exercises and not keeping your head aligned with your spine.”
Fix this pressure in your neck
To reduce neck strain after a workout (or in general), you need to bypass the neck itself, says McLaughlin. “The best way to fix neck strain is to fix the position of the spine underneath,” she says. “The straighter your middle back is, the more naturally your head rests on your shoulders without your front neck muscles being in a long and weak position. This is achieved by stretching your chest muscles and strengthening your upper back muscles” with exercises like rows and reverse flyes.
Depending on the exercise, there are certain techniques that help reduce neck strain. For example, McLaughlin recommends gently tucking your chin in and resting your head above your shoulders before doing any heavy weight lifting. If you’re doing core work, Trembei says to avoid stretching your neck, which reduces muscle load in your core and overloads it in the neck.
“It’s also important in Pilates, yoga and during core exercises to protect your neck, take breaks, and make sure your neck is in line with your spine,” says Trumbicki. “When you lift weights, you want to make sure that you don’t put pressure on your shoulders or neck when performing the movements. In cardio exercises, like spinning, you want to keep your neck and spine aligned to prevent these injuries.”
And don’t forget that warming up before exercise reduces the risk of muscle strain throughout the body. “A vigorous warm-up is very important before any form of exercise,” says Trumbicki. “Prepare the muscles so they are ready for the work they are about to do.”
If you suffer from neck strain, McLaughlin says active interventions that involve stretching the thoracic and thoracic spine [i.e. mid-back] Moving can provide relief, as well as prevent neck strain when done regularly. And whether you’re a beginner or a fitness enthusiast, if you can’t seem to get rid of your neck pain, consider working with a trainer, trainer, or physical therapist.
“My biggest tip for reducing neck strain, in whatever form of exercise you prefer, is to have someone guide you during the exercise to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly,” says Trembicki. Once you have filled out the form, you can do it yourself.
3 Moves to Help with Neck Strain After a Workout, Courtesy of MIHP Wipe Out Pain Series
1. Wall wash
Stand six inches from a wall, facing it, with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead. Put your hands on the wall. Slide your right hand up the wall directly above your head as you shift your weight into your right leg. You should feel a stretch in your right side. Return to the starting position and repeat on your left side. Alternate left and right for two sets of 12 repetitions.
2. Side angel
Lie on your right side with your hips and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Grasp your knees with your right hand, and let your left shoulder blade drop toward the floor with your arm outstretched. Slowly move your left arm in an arc up toward your head and then down to your side. Repeat several times on each side.
Start by sitting on the front edge of a chair with your back straight and your chest lifted. Gently cross your arms in front of you by grabbing the opposite elbow, then do the following six times each: Raise your arms above your head and then lower them down. Raise your arms above your head and bend from side to side. Raise your arms above your head and rotate your torso to the right, then to the left.