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Strengthen That Neck!


Today we’re talking about that burning, very annoying pain on the inside or above the shoulder blade that so many people get! We see this issue a lot and it’s usually from bad alignment of the head, neck and shoulder blades and strength issues of those areas. And, we hate to break it to you, it’s usually not just because a muscle is tight and you need to rub it out!

Did you read that? DON’T JUST RUB IT OUT! You gotta also LINE IT UP & WORK IT OUT!

How this happens:

When you sit or stand with your head and neck forward (you know, like as you’re reading this on your phone when you’re on your computer and/or when caring for a baby) your alignment gets all jacked up. When in this position, your head and cervical vertebrae (neck bones) are no longer stacked nicely on top of your body which turns off the important stabilizing muscles in the front of your neck. These neck muscles are basically the “core” of your neck! Without those muscles on, your big upper traps and levator scapulae muscles have to hold on to your head for dear life! They end up getting overused, fatigued, tight feeling and painful.


Think cause and effect. The cause is the bad alignment and weak neck core and the effect is the overused upper traps and levator scapulae. Yes, those upper traps and levator scapula may become tight because they’ve been working so dang hard, but rubbing them out doesn’t address the cause. Rubbing feels good but can cause you to have an even floppier/less stable neck. Those same muscles will then have to tighten up, even more, to try to provide some stability...UNLESS you learn to get in better alignment and use the neck core instead!


  • LINE IT UP: Get in better alignment by stacking your trunk over your pelvis and setting your scapula on your ribcage(please reference the past postural video for clarity). Once your trunk and shoulders are in a good position we need to align your neck and head over your trunk. Do this by performing a “chin tuck” or “axial elongation” movement. Do this by trying to tuck your chin to your neck (not your chest) while at the same time, lengthening from the top of your head to the ceiling. This will not only improve your alignment but it will allow you to turn on your neck core and shoulder girdle during your normal and high-level daily activity.

  • WORK IT OUT: Now that you are aligned correctly, it is time to build neuromuscular control (can you turn on the right muscle, at the right time) and motor control (can you turn on the right muscle with enough strength and endurance to maintain that alignment during normal life movements). Start by laying on your back with your knees bent and a pillow under your head and neck. From there tuck the chin and try to lengthen your head up like you are growing taller. At this stage, try not to push your head into the pillow or lift it up as that might turn off the neck core muscles. Once you feel comfortable doing this and holding this position for up to a minute you can add resistance. This is done by placing both of your thumbs under your chin and trying to lift your chin out of the tucked position. Your goal is to hold still during this effort and work up to 1-2 minute holds. You’ll likely feel some shaking during this exercise, and that’s ok, it’s working! The shakiness will go away as you get stronger. True cervical spine stabilization does not stop there as it needs shoulder girdle stability as well. So stay tuned, we’ll teach you that in another #ThrivinThursdays video!

See ya next week!

Your Physical Therapists (AKA Doctors of Movement), Dr. Mallari & Dr. Snyder

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