You can do abdominal workouts at home without any special equipment. But common mistakes in technique can easily result in neck pain and injury. Poor form is the most likely reason people experience neck pain when performing standard abdominal exercises such as crunches. Pre-workout stretching, careful attention to technique and varying your workout can go far toward reducing the likelihood of neck pain.
The Core Muscles
Your abdominals are a part of your core muscle system. These include the muscles found in the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen. Together, the core muscles help you to maintain good balance, stability and posture. When strong, they also help you to avoid pulled muscle injuries while engaging in everyday activities such as bending, twisting and lifting.
If you are prone to neck pain when you do abdominal exercises, do some neck stretches before each workout. Three types of neck stretches are ideal: lateral, rotating, and flexion and extension. These stretches will loosen up the neck muscles and lower the chance of injury during your workout.
Crunches Beat Sit-Ups
Traditional sit-ups engage the muscles that run through the lower back and thighs rather than the abdominal muscles. Crunches, on the other hand, isolate the ab muscles and put less strain on the neck. Unfortunately, crunches are also an exercise that many people do incorrectly. Incorrect form will fail to isolate the abdominal muscles and make it more likely that you will strain your neck.
When you do a crunch, keep your knees bent and your hands resting lightly behind your head. Cross your hands over your chest to avoid the temptation to pull on your neck. It is acceptable to allow your hands to support your neck as long as you do not use them to help you lift up. Your shoulders should lift off the floor as you curl upwards, letting your abdominal muscles -- not your head and neck -- do the work. Your eyes should stay focused on the ceiling while your neck and chin stay in neutral alignment. Do not allow your hands to pull your head and chin forward towards your chest.
A Varied Workout
There are several other exercises that will work the abs and other core muscles besides the standard crunch. Many of these do not strain the neck because they are done with the head lying flat on the ground, or with the body turned on its side. Dr. Erica Blankenbehler at the Abundant Health Chiropractic in Auburn, California, points to 12 core-strengthening exercises, most of which do not involve lifting the neck at all. Always check with your doctor before doing any new exercises, especially if you have chronic neck pain or injury. Pregnant women should also check with their doctors before engaging in these types of exercises.