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Gentle Strength Exercises Can Reduce Neck Pain

Posted - Feb. 27, 2004 at 6:20 a.m.



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That chronic pain in your neck is exactly what the same-named expression implies: a nuisance. Moving your head to look up or down is difficult, let alone turning your head to look behind before changing lanes on the road.

It's the kind of pain we get from spending a lot of time hunched in front of a computer or doing tasks that keep our neck in a fixed position.

What to do?

For years, physical therapists and personal fitness trainers have been recommending strength-training and flexibility exercises. Some of us reflexively work on the flexibility part, bending or stretching our neck when it feels tight after being frozen in one position in front of a computer.

We could benefit from remembering to include the neck in our strength-training routine.

A study last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that a year of regular strength and endurance exercises can help reduce neck pain and improve range of motion. The Finnish study involved 180 women ages 25-53 who worked in offices. All had chronic neck pain for more than six months and were willing to do the necessary physical rehab to reduce or eliminate pain.

Patients were assigned to one of three groups: The endurance group performed dynamic neck exercises, such as lifting the head while lying on one's back or face-down. The strength-training group performed high-intensity isometric exercises, in which the patients tightened the muscle or made it tense, and stabilization exercises using an elastic band. These two groups also performed strength-training exercises with dumbbells for the shoulders and upper body and were advised to do cardiovascular and stretching exercises three times a week.

The control group also was advised to do cardio and stretching exercises three times week.

After a year, neck pain and disability decreased in the strength and endurance groups. The strength group showed the most significant improvement.

If you have chronic neck pain, it's best to check with your doctor before embarking on an exercise rehab program. You may be referred to a physical therapist.

Here are some exercises to strengthen the neck for those without chronic pain:

Keep neck at neutral position - relaxed, not tilting forward or backward. Place palms on forehead. Push forehead against palms, while using palms to resist the pressure for several seconds.

Start at neutral position and place palms against the back of the head. Push back of head against palms and use the hands to resist the pressure for several seconds.

Place one palm against side of head. Move head against that palm and resist the pressure for several seconds. Avoid lifting shoulders.

Remember to stretch your neck by gently bending it forward, backward and sideways and by turning left to right and back. Keep shoulders relaxed.

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(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to lliddane@ocregister.com.)

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(c) 2004, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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