You expect your chest, triceps and shoulders to be sore from a serious set of push-ups, but your neck? Throbbing in the neck is likely due to poor posture during the exercise, and at other times during the day, and should subside with simple care. However, if it's a condition that persists, definitely seek advice from your health care provider.
Poor Posture in the Push-Up
In an ideal push-up, you hold your core rigid and create a straight line with your spine. The spine includes vertebrae in the neck known as the cervical spine. If you hang your head toward the floor, you could strain the muscles and connective tissue that surround these vertebrae and create a lingering soreness and throbbing sensation that lasts after your sets.
To correct the problem, keep your neck strong as you push up and down. Align it with the rest of your spine and, if you feel your neck begin to hang, stop and reset your form before continuing.
Another potential cause of strain is the opposite position, in which you bend your neck backward to look forward and check your position and prowess in a mirror. Have a trainer evaluate your form. You should look down and slightly in front of you on the floor to ensure your neck is in a neutral, or straight, position.
If you're attempting to challenge your push-up abilities and eke out a few extra reps each set or do an extremely challenging one-armed version, you may unknowingly be putting tension in your neck to "help" you along. It's natural to tense up your neck to encourage your core and upper body muscles to keep working, but it's not good form.
When the going gets tough in your push-up set, do a quick awareness check. If you feel yourself crowding your shoulders up to your ears and scrunching your neck muscles, it's not worth the extra reps. You may create tight muscles that spasm and throb as they release once you're done.
Are You Sure It's the Push-Ups?
If you use push-ups to finish your workout, you might blame them for your throbbing neck — but, other efforts on the gym floor could be to blame. Craning your neck over the bar in a chin-up, looking too far forward during deadlifts or jutting your chin forward during overhead presses are just a few other form problems to fix so your neck stays healthy.
If the neck pain is temporary, it's likely you overworked the area. If it's sore for a few days, you may have pulled a muscle or strained a ligament. A little rest, over-the-counter pain relief and ice might be all you need.
The only way to be sure you don't have a more serious injury is to get your neck examined by a doctor or physical therapist. If the throbbing is accompanied by tingling in your fingers and forearms, headaches, jaw pain and diminished range of motion, get medical advice immediately. The discs in your neck can get damaged and compress nerves.