Column: Prevent undo stress of that susceptible neck

What hurts right now? Your lower back? Your shoulder? Or maybe it's your neck? The neck can be a problem even for the non-exerciser because its mobility is required for many daily tasks.

Let's look at the physical make up of the neck. The top seven segments of your spine make up the cervical spine, this supports your neck and give it rotational as well as up and down movements. Your spinal cord, a large grouping of nerves, runs down the spinal column from brain to tailbone. Nerves run the length of your spine through the holes in the vertebral elements and branch off the vertebral segments. These nerves are very susceptible to stress, pressure and sudden jerky movements.

There are interesting muscles incorporated in the management of neck movement. For instance, most people do not consider the abdominal muscles as any use whatsoever in neck movement, but, abdominal muscles are very important in holding your spine straight from the front. Paraspinal muscles on either side of the spine are strong muscles that work from the side areas of the spine. The Quadratus lumborum, which lies between the ribs and pelvis support the lower back, or lumber region of the spine. And finally the paracervical muscles of the neck support and aid in turning and bending. Obviously all these muscles need exercise to maintain the balance in strength for injury prevention. The question then becomes one of how long, how often and how intense should that work out be?

In most exercise situations that do not deal with contact sports, the possibility of neck injury is slight. Any stress to the neck occurs with repetitions, leverage and over the head arm movements.

So, when you do exercise moves, be always aware of the position of your neck. Don't extend out over the body midline, keep your head and shoulders lined up with the trunk portion of your body. Then move those segments as one smooth step. Control is the key. When you do those chin to chest abdominal curls, use your abdominal muscles to do the lifting of your head, don't lift your had with your hands. Rest your neck muscles now and then, or use a folded towel beneath your head for support.

A little caution, especially during the beginning, learning sessions of your exercise program will prevent any undo stress of that susceptible neck.

Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and for the American Lung Association.

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