By Kristin Marvin, Yoga Tune Up Teacher
Head and neck pain can come from a multitude of factors: poor posture, slipped or bulged disc, trauma, muscle tension, muscle weakness, muscle imbalances and/or injury. These pains are a growing epidemic due to our modern sedentary lifestyle (i.e. seated at desks, driving cars, reading books, texting, playing video games, watching TV). Our bodies adapt to our everyday movements to make it easier for us to function; however, in time, these adaptations come at a cost. It could be one day, a week, a year or longer until you notice serious concerns in your body due to adaptation.
There are many muscles that help with head and neck movements, but my focus will be the longus capitis or LC (translated as the long muscle of the head). The longus capitis is a deep flexor muscle in the neck whose job is to laterally flex, rotate, and flex the head and neck. In addition, the LC helps to reduce the lordotic curve (inward curvature) of the cervical vertebrae. Most significantly it is the initiator in head and neck flexion. Healthy head and neck flexion is initiated with the LC, followed by the longus colli, anterior scalenes, and then the sternocleidomastoid (SCM).
Unfortunately today, many people reverse this sequencing of head and neck flexion; consequently leading to chronic neck extension. How can you spot it? Their chin is mostly likely sticking out and not tucked in. In these people the LC muscles have become inactive and weak overtime and cannot properly function. The inactivity of the LC leads to an overactivity of the SCM. When the SCM is overworked it becomes fatigued more quickly, eventually leading to chronic forward head posture (head/neck extension). This can escalate to chronic headaches, temporomandibular disorders (TMD), chronic back neck/back pain, and even lordosis in the cervical spine.
Do you have this problem? A simple test can give you the answer: the Head raise test. Please don’t cheat! You will need a partner to watch your movement. Lay down on your back. Now, raise your head off the ground. What happened? If the chin instantly rose to the ceiling to lift your head up you have weak LC muscles. If your chin stayed tucked in, then you engaged your LC and it is working and active. If you did not fare well on this test you need to strengthen your LC by doing this chin-tucking exercise: Tuck your chin in while attempting to raise your head toward the ceiling (like someone is pulling on your hair straight up). Do this for 5 seconds, and then completely relax. Repeat this 8-10 times from 1 to 3 times a day to strengthen your LC.
The next time a neck pain or headache creeps up, perhaps you can chin-in your way to health!
Try these easy stretching exercises for relief from the pain in your neck.
Is your LC working correctly? Try the test to find out!
Kristin is a movement therapist living in Perth, Australia. Kristin enjoys helping people get to know their bodies better in order to live healthier, more active lifestyles. She teaches public and private classes, provides workshops and certifications. Find out more about Kristin at KristinMarvinFitness.com.