Don't sacrifice safety when you stretch your neck.
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Long, supple neck muscles let you move your head through its full range of motion. That translates into better posture, reduced risk of neck injury and improved oxygen delivery to the brain so you can stay alert and focused throughout the day. Smart neck stretches bring relief from soreness and boost neck mobility without compromising safety. Avoid exercises that involve rolling the head to the back, because hyperextending the neck in this way can be harmful.
Stretching your neck has it's benefits, but rolling it backward can pinch blood vessels and nerves and increase pressure on your discs.
Feel the Pinch
Traditional head rolls, or neck rolls, involve dropping the chin toward the chest, circling the head to one side, continuing the rotation around to the back and opposite side and finishing with the chin at the chest. Although certain aspects of the complete head roll are arguably beneficial, backward movement of the head is risky. Rolling the head toward the back can compress arteries and nerves in the neck and at the base of the skull. This compression, or pinching, can hinder oxygen delivery to the brain and result in dizziness, numbness, weakness or pain along the arm, according to "Yoga Journal."
In extreme cases, impeding circulation could cause a brief loss of consciousness. Moving the head back can also speed up the natural process of degeneration that occurs in the cervical spine and aggravate neck arthritis.
Protect Your Discs
Neck rolls fail in another important respect. Rolling the head can lead to grinding of the cervical discs, because the vertebrae of your neck aren't designed for continuous movement along a circular path, according to the Navy Physical Training Series.
Instead, perform a combination of stretches that work different neck areas separately. To lengthen the back of your neck, for example, exhale and slowly lower your chin toward your chest. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds and then slowly raise your chin. To target different muscle fibers behind the neck, rotate the head slightly before dropping the chin to the chest.
For muscles along the right side of your neck, start with your chin level and tilt your head directly to the left, drawing your left ear toward your left shoulder. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds and repeat the stretch on the other side. For every variation, you'll get a deeper, more satisfying stretch by pressing lightly downward on the head with one hand.
Stretch the Smart Way
Whatever stretches you use, exercise caution to avoid stretch-related injury. Warm up lightly before stretching, especially if you've been sitting for a while. Stand up, march in place for several minutes, swing your arms lightly back and forth and turn your head from side to side.
Before you move into the stretch position, stand or sit straight, align the top of your head directly over your spine and press your shoulders down and slightly back. Think of lengthening your neck, creating as much space as possible between your shoulders and ears. Throughout every stretch, stay focused and maintain total control of your movements, breathing evenly and working at a slow, relaxed pace.
Look Beyond Stretching
Opting for safe stretches isn't the only step you can take to preserve your neck health. At work, avoid sitting hunched over your desk and adjust your computer monitor so the top of the screen is at eye-level. Check your posture throughout the day, avoid cradling your phone in the crook of your neck and take frequent breaks to stand, move around, stretch and massage sore areas. When you drive, keep the seat of your car in a fairly upright position that supports your head.
At night, sleep with a pillow that is neither too high, nor too firm and use a horseshoe-shaped pillow to support your neck when you travel and expect to doze off. When you carry heavy items - including handbags and luggage - try to distribute the weight evenly between both sides of your body to avoid straining one side of your neck.