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neck pain

Neck Pain During Crunches? 3 Reasons why and what you can do.

Abdominal crunches are one of the most popular “ab exercises” around. It’s a move that emphasizes your upper abdominal strength more so than your lower. You start by lying on your back – typically hands behind your head and knees bent – then lift your head and chest off the floor – “crunching” your upper body into a C-shaped curve. 

Over the years, many healthcare and fitness professionals have dismissed this exercise entirely claiming its ineffectiveness for working the core. While I agree that it shouldn’t be the only core exercise you do – the abdominal crunch does have its place. When done correctly, mastering this move can help you get up from the floor, and sit up out of bed with more ease and less risk of injury. And of course, you see this move a lot in exercise classes, so it’s important to know how to do this move correctly without hurting your neck. 

If you’re feeling crunches in your neck instead of your abs – here are the biggest problems I see and why they might be hurting you.

     1. You’re not using your abs. 

This sounds pretty obvious, right? Of course you use your abs when you crunch. Anatomically-speaking – it would be impossible for you to perform this move without some form of engagement with your abs. But many people don’t engage their abs enough or in the right way. And this can result in neck pain.

Here’s what happens. 

If you don’t engage your abs enough or in the right way during a crunch – your neck will often kick in to try and help. Eventually your neck gets sore from this because your neck muscles aren’t designed to be the primary mover during a crunch. One easy tip to try next time you do a crunch is to make sure you inhale deeply – and then exhale as you begin to crunch. At the same time, check in with your neck. Make sure you can easily turn and wiggle it side to side. If that is challenging – then you are likely using your neck to help you crunch and your abdominal engagement could use some work.

    2. Your neck is in the wrong position. 

When you’re doing an abdominal crunch your neck position is critical. There is an illusion that your neck moves during the crunch but it should actually stay pretty stationary. The ideal position for your neck is to begin with a slight nod of the chin (like you’re nodding “yes”) and then keep it there. The rest of the curling motion will come from contracting your abdominals to move your trunk. As you curl up, you want to keep a nice C-shaped curve of your upper body – and keep a tennis ball’s distance between your chin and chest. 

Most people either curl their neck too much, or not enough. If your chin is touching your chest you’re curled too much – and you’ll experience strain behind your neck. And if you keep your neck too straight you’ll experience strain in the front of your neck. Another common mistake with neck positioning during a crunch is jutting your head forward. This will put strain in your upper neck right behind your head. While any of these positions will cause temporary discomfort in your neck – they could lead to more long-standing problems down the line if not corrected. 

     3. You have an underlying neck problem. 

Sometimes you will get all of the above right – and still have neck pain when you perform an abdominal crunch. This could be a sign that you have an underlying neck problem – and doing a lot of crunches has just exposed it.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you have a small bulging disc in your neck that you weren’t aware of, or you thought was “fixed”. The curled position of your neck during a crunch can exacerbate this problem, even if you are using your abs correctly and following every tip I just mentioned above. 

Pay attention to what you feel during and after performing an abdominal crunch. If you notice pain that shoots into your shoulder blade, or any numbness or tingling down your arm (especially if past your elbow) – these are clues you could have an underlying neck problem that is being aggravated by crunching. You might experience these symptoms during your crunches, or even up to several hours after. Either way, symptoms like this could be a sign there is more to your neck pain than simply incorrect crunch-technique or weakness in your abs. And it would be important to talk to an expert about this.

If you’re experiencing neck pain during abdominal crunches – hopefully these tips give you a better understanding why – but most importantly – please know this is a very common issue and you’re not alone.

It’s partly why I created Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health™

Although this program is primarily geared toward helping folks who’s back pain is keeping them from strengthening their core and exercising the way they want to…

We actually talk quite about about the relationship between your abdominals and your neck – and teach you how to “crunch” safely and correctly.

I’ve been personally teaching this program for the past 4 years – and previously – you could only do it live with me 1-2x per year…

But NOW – I’m excited to tell you that we’ve opened it up to the entire world!

We’ve had people signing up from all across the country right now – people who’ve been wanting to get help from me but couldn’t because of where they were located.

This program is not for everyone – but if you want to learn more and see if it might be for you – CLICK HERE.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilatesin Portsmouth, NH.  To get a free copy of her guide to taking care of back pain – click here. 

5 benefits of adding pilates to your fitness routine

5 Benefits of Adding Pilates to Your Fitness Routine

5 Benefits of Adding Pilates to Your Fitness Routine 

Pilates has been around for about 100 years, and it still amazes me how many people have NOT heard of this incredible exercise method.

If you didn’t already know – it was first created by Joseph Pilates and initially gained popularity among the dance community as a way to recover from and prevent injuries. But you don’t have to be a dancer to practice Pilates or enjoy the benefits. It has become increasingly popular for the over 50 crowd – and for good reason…

Unlike what’s often touted in the media, the benefits of a regular Pilates practice go way beyond a lean beach body and 6-pack abs.

For Mr. Pilates, his method was created out of a quest to improve his overall health in a holistic way that went beyond what could be achieved with traditional strength-training methods. He suffered from various health ailments – and thanks to his incessant curiosity and fascination of the human body and what it was capable of – he eventually came up with his transformational method of total body conditioning.

Personally, I’ve been incorporating Pilates into my own work as a physical therapist for over 10 years, and I practice Pilates myself weekly. I love and believe in it so much that I’ve designed my entire business model around it!

Pilates is a full body strengthening system that emphasizes breath, precision, coordination, and core strength.

The better you can understand and connect to your body, the easier it is to prevent injury and push your body to limits you otherwise may not have thought possible.

Here are 5 Benefits of Adding Pilates to Your Fitness Routine – and why you should consider adding a regular Pilates practice to YOUR fitness routine as well…

 

1. Pilates helps with back pain.

Once you hit 40, your risk of back injury starts to climb, and a regular practice of Pilates is a safe and sustainable way to help keep your back pain-free and strong. Pilates focuses on core strength but is also a well-balanced exercise system. Full body strength and balance is a critical component for life-long back health – something that isn’t always addressed in traditional back pain rehabilitation programs or strength-training regimens. We even have specific Pilates classes geared towards people with back pain!

2. Pilates strengthens your whole body – not just your core.

Pilates is known as the staple of core training – but it doesn’t just stop there. Pilates strengthens your arms, glutes, hips, and legs in a way that helps them to not only be strong – but work together in a balanced and coordinated fashion. I call this “balanced strength” – and it’s one of the keys to truly enhancing your fitness and performance levels.

3. Pilates improves your flexibility and mobility.

People use these terms synonymously but they are actually quite different. Flexibility refers to muscle length and pliability. Mobility refers to joint range of motion. Flexibility without mobility is useless – and you need a balance of strength and flexibility to optimize mobility. In other words – a balanced joint – one that is strong and flexible – allows the joint to move fully and freely – which optimizes its mobility. Pilates emphasizes continuous, slow, and precise movements through a large range of mobility. This allows you to work on both strength and flexibility simultaneously – and thus – your mobility as well.

4. Pilates puts minimal stress on your joints.

Aging is a real thing and along with it comes arthritis. The key to combating arthritis is optimizing the area around the affected joint or joints. When you have good mobility, and balanced strength, you have less compressive forces on your joints. Arthritis doesn’t like compressed, crowded joints. So when you strengthen and stretch your whole body in a good, balanced way – arthritis becomes less painful and stiff. Pilates helps with all this while not causing any added stress on your joints in the meantime.

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Your nervous system is responsible for conducting messages from your brain to your muscles. If that’s not in-tune – you could develop compensations and inefficient movement patterns that eventually lead to pain and injury. Pilates emphasizes precise and coordinated movements, which enhances and reinforces this brain to muscle connection. You can’t just go through the motions when you do Pilates. You have to use your brain and really concentrate on what you’re doing. This helps to train your nervous system – resulting in smoother, more coordinated movements – and better balance as well.

Are you interested in learning more about pilates and seeing if it’s a good fit for you?

CLICK HERE to check out our in studio pilates offerings!

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group.