The human head weighs 10 to 12 lb., a weight that places a lot of strain on the neck muscles to hold it in place. Moving your head forward out of proper alignment to look at a computer screen or to better see a book adds an additional 30 lb. of pull on the neck. This causes the muscles on the front of the neck to shorten and also creates tension in the back of the neck. Exercises that lengthen the neck muscles relieve tension and pain.
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Neck Alignment Exercise
The neck alignment exercise lengthens and increases space between the vertebrae of the neck through a short sequence of moves. This basic exercise teaches proper posture, too. Begin by sitting up tall in a chair with your tongue on the roof of your mouth and your jaw relaxed. The entire face should relax. Gently pull your neck back so that your head aligns over the center of your shoulders. Now, imagine a string attached to your chest that runs through your neck and out of the top of your head. Pull that string up in your imagination. The chest lifts and your neck lengthens. Your neck should remain long and centered like this throughout the day. Finally, place your thumb and index finger on your jaw and your right hand on the base of your neck and slowly lift your skull straight up to further lengthen the neck.
The chin tilt lengthens tight muscles in the back of the neck, but be careful not to let the shoulders move forward as you do this exercise. By bringing your chin straight down toward your sternum, you force the back of the neck to get longer. If your chin reaches your chest, let it rest there and relax. Keep the chin down for 15 to 30 seconds.
Side Neck Stretches
Turning your head lengthens the muscles on the sides of the neck. However, moving your shoulder interferes with the exercise. The shoulders remain retracted during this exercise, which is how they should be all the time. To do this exercise, simply rotate your head to look left, hold for 15 to 30 seconds, and then repeat by looking right.
Inversion Tables and Exercises
Inversion therapy lengthens the spine all the way from the sacrum at the base up to the base of the skull. Hanging upside on an inversion table or from a pole is a passive exercise that lets gravity pull on your spine in the opposite direction it normally does when you are upright. This exercise basically does the same thing as the neck alignment exercise, but instead of you actively lifting through the neck, you relax and let the weight of your head pull your neck muscles for you.