Push-ups are a convenient way to build your pecs without having to hit the gym. While you might have some chest or shoulder soreness after a push-up workout, throbbing in the neck can also occur as your heart beats harder to pump blood to your muscles.
However, throbbing in the neck that is accompanied by pain may indicate an underlying injury. It may also be a sign that you're doing something wrong.
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Read more: What Do Push-Ups Do to Your Body?
Causes of Throbbing in Neck
If you have a throbbing or pulsing sensation in your neck after push-ups, it could have several causes. The location of your symptoms may help determine the cause.
With heavy exercises, such as push-ups, your heart rate increases to pump more blood to your hard-working muscles. As a result, you might feel a throbbing sensation over the carotid arteries on either side of your neck, next to your windpipe. You might even see them pulsing when you look in a mirror. This is a normal response to heavy exercise, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and should resolve within a few minutes of completing your workout.
Throbbing that affects the base of the neck with pain, or the base of the skull, is most likely caused by muscle damage. According to the Mayo Clinic, muscle strains — often called "pulled muscles" — can occur during physical activities. These injuries typically cause sharp pain at the time of injury. Depending on their severity, muscle strains may also cause bruising, swelling, decreased range of motion, weakness and muscle spasms.
Neck pain causes during push-ups may include damage to your trapezius muscle. This large, triangular muscle runs from the back of your neck, across the top of both shoulders and down the middle of the back. Damage to the upper fibers of the trapezius in the neck area, commonly called the "upper trap," can lead to throbbing in the neck.
Consider Muscle Strain From Push-Ups
According to ExRx.net, the upper fibers of the trapezius muscle elevate your shoulders or shrug them up toward your ears. This muscle also helps extend the neck or holds it in a straight position during exercises, such as push-ups.
According to a research paper published in May 2016 by Western Washington University, during a push-up, the upper trapezius muscles elevate the shoulder blades and rotate them upward as you move into the plank position. Once you are in the push-up position, your trapezius muscles continue to contract to help hold your body straight as you perform the exercise.
However, the upper trap muscles can fire too much sometimes, leading to potential injury. Weakness or injury in other shoulder muscles, such as your rotator cuff, may cause your upper traps to work harder to compensate. If your upper traps are overactive during push-ups, it can tip the shoulder blades forward, straining your neck and pinching tendons in your shoulder joints.
Read more: How to Do Push-Ups for Beginners
Modify Your Technique
Push-ups are frequently performed with three different hand positions. Standard push-ups position your hands with your middle fingers lined up with the outside border of your shoulders. Narrow hand placement moves the hands inside your shoulders, while wide grip brings the hands wider than shoulder-width.
According to the Western Washington University article, performing push-ups with a wide grip results in less activation of the upper trapezius muscles. If you have throbbing in your neck from push-ups, consider widening your hand placement.
The position of your neck during push-ups can cause pain and throbbing. According to Harvard Health Publishing, poor posture during physical activities is one of the biggest contributors to neck pain.
While you're performing push-ups, you might be tempted to look around for a change of scenery. But this isn't a good position for your neck.
Lifting your head tightens your upper traps and other muscles deeper in your neck, while simultaneously compressing the joints in your cervical spine. While it might be boring, focus on the floor between your hands to properly position your neck while performing this exercise. This keeps your neck in a neutral position.
Stretching your upper traps, as demonstrated by Massachusetts General Hospital, after performing push-ups may help reduce tension in these muscles to prevent throbbing in your neck.
- Stand up straight with your arms behind your back.
- Grasp your right wrist with your left hand. Gently pull down on your right arm.
- Tilt your left ear toward your left shoulder until you feel a strong stretch along the right side of your neck.
- Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then relax.
- Perform three times on each side.
To target different parts of the muscle, tilt your chin toward your chest as you stretch.
Check With Your Doctor
Throbbing in the neck may also indicate more serious injuries or medical conditions, such as arthritis in your spine — called spondylosis — or damage to the discs that cushion your stacked vertebral bones. These conditions can damage the nerves that exit your spine to power muscles and supply sensation in your arms. In addition to neck pain, you might also experience pain in your arm on the affected side, numbness, tingling or arm muscle weakness.
If you also notice sudden numbness or weakness or develop issues controlling your bowel or bladder, this may indicate damage to your spinal cord, according to the Mayo Clinic. Seek immediate medical attention to prevent permanent damage.
Other medical conditions can make your spine unstable, prohibiting you from performing certain types of exercise. Check with your doctor before doing push-ups with cervical spondylosis — or other disorders affecting your neck.
In rare cases, neck pain and throbbing can be a sign of cervical artery dissection, or a tear in one of the main arteries in your neck. According to Harvard Health Publishing, this condition may occur with high-intensity exercise and can cause a life-threatening stroke. Other signs of stroke from artery dissection include dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty walking, double-vision and jerky eye movements. Call 911 if you experience these symptoms.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Pulse-Bounding"
- Mayo Clinic: "Muscle Strains - Symptoms and Causes"
- ExRx.net: "Trapezius (Upper Fibers)"
- Western Washington University:"Effects of Hand Position During a Push-Up on Scapular Kinematics"
- Mayo Clinic: "Cervical Spondylosis"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Is Your Workout Giving You a Stiff Neck?"
- Massachusetts General Hospital: "Shoulder Stretching Exercises"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "When A Pain in the Neck is Serious"