Exercise for a Neutral Cervical Spine

Posted on July 25, 2014

neutral spine
Article written by: Alfonse F. Neumann III BS, MSA, ACSM, CSCS

Cervical pain is so prevalent these days, that it seems everyone has experienced it once in his or her life. Are there ways to prevent this problem from ever happening? That answer can depend largely on you.

Research suggests that many cervical spine problems are preventable because they result from poor posture and poor body mechanics, which subject the spine to abnormal stresses. Over time, these abnormal stresses can lead to structural changes in the spine, including degeneration of the discs and joints, lengthening or shortening of the supportive ligaments and muscles. All of these structural changes can lead to cervical pain.

However, there are many things you can do each day to minimize current cervical spine pain and prevent future problems from occurring. You’re spine is much like a machine that needs regular care and maintenance to keep it functioning properly and pain free.

Two key factors in taking care of your neck center the on concepts of learning and practicing good posture, and getting regular exercise.

Good Posture

Good neck and back care starts with proper posture. Bad posture not only can be the cause of your cervical pain, but it can also make existing pain worse. Poor posture is also a factor in conditions such as chronic headaches, TMJ dysfunction and shoulder pain. Many people spend large portions of their day sitting or performing tasks that require bending forward or lifting. The foundation for good posture is maintaining a “neutral spine.” A neutral spine retains three natural curves: a small hollow in the cervical spine, a small roundness throughout your thoracic spine, and a small hollow in the lumbar spine.

Cervical Exercises

The cervical vertebrae originates at the base of the skull, and extends to the thoracic spine. It is made up of cylindrical bones located in front of the spinal cord, which supports and stabilizes the neck by working with spinal ligaments, muscles, joints and tendons. The cervical vertebrae also controls rotation, flexion and extension of the head. Strengthening exercises, also known as stabilization training, strengthen the muscles that support the neck, and prevents injury to the spine

These basic exercises should be done to develop strength in the neck and upper back, which will help you maintain proper posture.

Exercise #1: Cervical Spine: Supine Axial Extension

Lie on your back with arms at your sides and palms up, using no pillow or a small pillow under your head. Tuck your chin in as if to flatten the back of your neck against the floor/bed. At the same time, try to stretch your head towards the top of the bed and lengthen the neck. Hold for at least 10 seconds, and then relax.

Frequency: repeat 10 times, 1 to 2 sets

Exercise #2: Cervical Spine: Nod/Strengthening

In the same position, slowly nod your head in a “yes” motion, moving your chin down about one inch towards your chest until you feel slight tension in the back of your neck. Now barely unweight your head from the pillow. Hold for 6 seconds, then lower your head and relax.

Frequency: repeat 10 times, 1 to 2 sets

Exercise #3: Scapula Stabilization Strengthening: Rowing

Wrap an elastic therapy band around a solid, stationary object. Hold the ends, with the band taught, at elbow height, with arms extended out in front of you. Bend your elbows and pull your arms back toward the side of your rib cage, squeezing your shoulder blades together, and then relax.

Frequency: repeat 15 times, 3 sets

*Remember that exercises should not be painful!