One of the most common mistakes that I see with my own patients, as well as observing people daily, (ESPECIALLY AT THE GYM) is poor head and cervical spine alignment. Commonly we see forward head posture resulting in upper cervical spine hyperextension and lower cervical spine hyper-flexion. (See image) Today while at the gym I almost lost my mind! I saw squats, deadlifts, shrugs, curls, and the ever fantastic leg press machine being performed with GROSS amounts of forward head posture. Adopting this type of posture greatly increases injury risk and reduces performance.
A packed neck is important in any activity you can think of. Walking, running, swimming, tackling, lifting, sitting, etc. all require functional centration (essentially, correct position of joints through movement) of the neck for expression of full body power, as well as for safety reasons. Does neck position really matter that much? ABSOLUTELY! Here are the six main reasons why it is so important.
Rule #1: Rehabbing and exercising from a position of poor centration can only increase compensation and lead to more movement imbalance. Since quality of movement and motor control often drive pain and poor performance understanding proper joint alignment is a must. The ultimate goal of both rehab and performance is getting muscles to work together around the entire joint to enhance stability (muscular synergy).
Rule #2: Poor head and neck positioning affects the way the inner core works. The inner core, or deep stabilizing system, consists of our deep neck flexors, diaphragm, pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, and intrinsic back muscles (See figures below). These muscles provide us with a “hoop” of stability. The inner core is reflexive in nature, meaning it activates without us telling it to do so, or at least it should. This is a prerequisite for ANY efficient and safe movement. Letting the neck slide into a forward position alters the timing at which the inner core fires, leading to improper stabilization of joints. Inefficient stabilization = increased injury risk and decreased performance.
Rule #3: Decentration, or improper alignment, of one joint has far reaching effects on all other joints. When one joint becomes de-centrated all other joints will follow and the tone of the muscular system will also be altered. Altered alignment at the neck will lead to poor position of the back and hips. Bad neck position=poor force production and increased risk of injury! (example below)
Rule #4: Mobile joints create stronger muscles. When the neck is hyperextended it loses mobility. Joint approximation tells the CNS (central nervous system) that everything is stable, so the CNS tells the muscles “Hey chill out everything is stable, you can relax” (arthrokinematic reflex). In other words, your body saves you from excessive compressive forces by turning muscles off. Slightly more complicated, but you get the picture.
Rule #5: Looking up aids in a full body reaction. Actually, let me restate that… Looking up WITH THE EYES causes a full body reaction. Full body reactions are driven through the eyes. Look to the right with your eyeballs and try to turn your head to the left and you will see what I mean. The eyes provide the CNS with a great deal of proprioceptive (body awareness) input, making them extremely important drivers of movement patterns. Many try to take advantage by moving the whole head. It won’t work because rules 1 and 2 come back into play.
Rule #6: It looks better! I hate when I look at a picture of myself and I have the turtle neck sticking out, it looks terrible (trust me I need all the help I can get). Shallow yes, but true none the less. Face it, an unpacked turtle neck and mouth breathing are unattractive qualities to possess.
If you like hurting and enjoy not performing to your potential… Then by all means let the neck poke forward all you want. How can you reintegrate centration into activity? It may be difficult and even uncomfortable in the beginning because of joint and tissue restrictions. Also it takes repetition to re-groove proper motor patterns. Below are some outstanding initial methods to retrain functional centration at the neck.
NECK PACKING, CENTRATION, NECK PAIN, SQUAT MECHANICS, DEAD LIFT