By Mary Ann Wilson, RN
Keeping the neck flexible is a priority if we want to age well. The ability to move our head and neck freely plays an especially crucial role in safe driving. Fortunately, there are easy exercises we can do on a regular basis to increase flexibility in the neck and maintain this functional skill. Practice these exercises for neck flexibility and you will see will notice how much easier your neck moves through a normal range of motion with ease and without pain.
As with all exercises, begin with good posture.
Perform each exercise slowly, focusing on good form, and stay within your comfort range.
Neck Exercise Precautions
Severe bending the neck backwards is not safe because of possible pressure on the arteries which supply oxygen to the brain. Full circles of the head in a continuous movement–forward, right side, backward, left side, forward –is also not recommended because nerves and arteries in the neck can be impinged and tiny joints between the bones of the neck can become malaligned.
The following combination of neck exercises takes the neck through its range of movement, increasing or maintaining flexibility and promoting full movement.
1. Lengthen the back of the neck as though a string is pulling up at the top of the head.
2. Touch chin with hand. Then pull chin straight back, away from hand.
3. Look slowly over shoulder–right then left.
4. Look slowly over shoulder–right then left, BUT this time look back with eyes, as far as you can.
5. Fully extend both arms forward in front of body at shoulder level pointing the index fingers straight ahead.
6. Look slowly to the right as the right arm (with index finger pointed) moves as far back to the right as possible.
7. Return to center and repeat on left. Both arms return to sides of body in preparation for the next exercise.
8. Realign the neck–repeat Step 2 (touching chin).
9. Drop right ear to right shoulder. Allow head to circle forward, bringing chin to chest, and then back to right shoulder. Return head to starting position.
10. Realign the neck–repeat step 2.
11. Drop left ear to left shoulder.
12. Circle head forward to center of chest and then return back to left shoulder.
13. With neck slightly extended, look up at ceiling with eyes. DO NOT BEND THE NECK BACK SEVERELY, AS THIS CAN PUT PRESSURE ON THE ARTERIES THAT SUPPLY THE BRAIN.