How to Treat and Prevent Neck Pain Caused by Bench Press Exercises

Bench pressing involves use of upper-body strength to lift a heavy weight, which includes chest, shoulder and lower neck muscles. Occasionally, bench pressing a weight heavier than your muscles are prepared to lift may cause muscular tears or strains, resulting in pain or swelling.

Use proper form to help prevent injury with bench press. (Image: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages)

Neck pain from bench pressing can also occur if the weight is not pressed using an even, smooth movement. Abrupt movements exacerbated by extreme pressure from heavy weights will usually cause pain from muscular sprains.

Bench Press Neck Pain

When a weight trainer experiences neck pain from bench pressing, it is usually from straining the sternocleidomastoid, two muscles that stretch from under the ear down the neck to the collarbone and sternum.

The sternocleidomastoid works in conjunction with chest and shoulder muscles to assist in head-related motions such as nodding and turning the head from side to side. Because it is connected to chest muscles necessary to lift weights while lying flat, bench pressing can easily injure this muscle. Bad bench press technique also increases risk of injury.

Neck Pain Symptoms

An injured sternocleidomastoid may be inflamed or swollen around the area it was torn or sprained. Pain will accompany head movement, especially if the head is turned or tilted. If severe enough, bruising may emerge on the skin in the form of light discoloration.

If muscle spasms are happening, a minor twitching motion may be discernible as well. Stiffness and difficulty holding the head up are other symptoms. However, bench pressers should seek a proper diagnosis; sternocleidomastoid pain is also seen in whiplash, neuromuscular diseases and other medical conditions.

Neck Pain Treatment

Swelling and pain may be relieved by applying ice on the pain site. If you have bench press neck pain, weight training should be avoided — especially bench pressing or other exercises involving chest, shoulder and neck muscles.

In severe cases, wearing a neck brace can alleviate pain by taking the pressure of supporting the head off the neck muscles. Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or rubbing creams containing analgesics are suggested as well, if approved by your doctor. In addition, placing a small pillow or rolled towel behind the neck may relieve pain while sleeping.

Caution With Neck Pain

Most strains involving sternocleidomastoid injuries heal on their own in one to two weeks, as long as the muscle is not exerted in bench pressing or other rigorous exercises. However, if tingling or numbing sensations occur that extend into the shoulders or arms or if muscle stiffness worsens to the point where head movement is impossible, then a doctor should be notified for diagnosis and treatment.

Prevention of Neck Pain

Gentle stretching exercises can assist in strengthening the neck muscles. Try lowering the chin slowly, placing it as close to the chest as possible without causing more pain. Keep back muscles relaxed and breath evenly while performing the motions. You can also tilt your head from one shoulder to the other, stopping to hold your head upright in between each tilt.

Also remember to practice proper posture to avoid straining your neck muscles from hunching over. Last, when bench pressing, make sure your head stays flat on the bench; injuries to neck muscles tend to occur when the head lifts off the bench and the neck muscles are contracted.

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