Unless a doctor has advised you to rest or limit neck movements, the neck performs best when you stay active every day. Here are 3 reasons why.
1. Keep neck muscles conditioned
When the body stays busy with physical activities, such as walking, exercising, housework, gardening, and others, your muscles get worked—including muscles in the neck. Working the muscles helps keep them strong and flexible to perform daily tasks.
An activity as simple as doing the dishes may not sound like it works the neck, but it can. Think about the extra effort your neck requires to support the head while bending down to load the dishwasher or reaching up to put a dish back in the cabinet. Staying active and doing different tasks throughout the day puts the neck through a wide range of motions and helps keep it in shape.
On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time sitting or being relatively inactive, your neck muscles become deconditioned. When the neck muscles are weaker and tighter, they’re more susceptible to painful strains and sprains.
2. Boost blood circulation
Getting up and moving around is better for your circulatory system than sitting on the couch or at a computer. Even better, aerobic exercise gets your breathing and heart rate elevated for the duration of the activity. Exercise gets more blood pumping throughout the body, including in the upper back and neck, which can help relax muscles and improve mobility. After an aerobic exercise session, the release of endorphins in the brain may reduce some types of pain. You may also experience a boost in mood or energy.
Some aerobic exercises include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, and biking. Current recommendations are for adults to get about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, which is about half an hour 5 days a week.1 What’s best for you may be different, so always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
3. Maintain better posture
Your head probably weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. This is the weight that your cervical spine (neck) supports when maintaining good posture with the ears directly above the shoulders in neutral position. If your head bends forward just 15 degrees, the stress on your cervical spine more than doubles.2 The more that your head and shoulders drift forward or slouch, the more stress is placed on the neck’s joints, muscles, and other soft tissues, which can lead to pain.
When you stay active and keep your muscles conditioned, it’s easier to maintain good posture. If you’re concerned about poor posture or perhaps already experiencing pain from it, consider a physical therapy program that focuses on your neck and core muscles. Strengthening these muscles and practicing good posture may help relieve and/or prevent pain.
A word of caution
Overworking the neck and/or repetitive motions can cause neck pain, so remember to take breaks and avoid overdoing it. If you experience chronic neck pain or pain that worsens with activity, consult with a doctor as to which activities and/or exercises are right for you.
- Current physical activity guidelines. U.S. Centers for Disease Control Web site. Updated November 9, 2016. Accessed February 16, 2018.
- Hansraj KK. Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgical Technology International. 2014; 11(25):277-9.