The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Common Exercises Teach Upper Back and Neck Pain

Tuesday night is martial arts class. It had rained all day. A few students were absent. They missed class on how to toughen body and spirit because of water? Next time it pours I think I should hold class outside. In fairness, the students who missed class responsibly contacted me that they would be out.

The rest of my students were sitting in two neat rows. They had gotten their equipment out of bins in healthy ways by bending their knees with body upright and heels down. Then they sat down in their rows on the floor without using their hands. Most were sitting up straight. The rest straightened when they saw me walk in.

Each week students practice preventing the bad habit of jutting their head forward of the center line of their body during stances and moves for exercise and sparring (left photo, above left). Healthy position keeps the chin in and the angle of the lower jaw over the center line of the shoulder (right photo).

A forward head is not healthy for daily life or exercise. It results in much neck, upper back, and shoulder pain. Jutting the head forward for kicking, lifting a weight, and other movement is commonly seen in exercise magazines and videos. Watch for it and let it remind you not to do that. The forward head doesn't look tough, it looks untrained and weak and is several inches closer to the opponent making your face easier to hit. It frequently leads to upper body pain, and in case of a blow to the head, a tilted forward angle of the neck in relation to the brain and skull is more likely to result in brain injury.

A forward head is not something you can't control. Just as you can move your arm or leg, you can easily move your neck in a relaxed way into the healthier chin-in position you want. The post Breasts Causing Upper Back Pain is a Myth gave a simple "wall test" to see if you keep your head forward - stand with your back against a wall and see if the back of your head also touches comfortably. If you have to arch your back or jut your chin forward or up to touch the back of your head, you are probably too tight to stand straight and are probably standing and moving all the time in an unhealthy bent-forward position that strains the neck, back, and other areas.

The post Fixing Upper Back and Neck Pain taught the pectoral stretch to restore muscle length to make healthy straight position comfortable. Use the pectoral stretch first thing in the morning and many times throughout the day. Then use your new ability to stand straight. The pectoral stretch (or any stretch) is not what fixes the problem. The stretch makes it possible for you to stand in the way that no longer strains and injures.

In the martial arts and in life, inviting a bad outcome is known as "leading with your chin." Letting your head and chin jut forward, as in the forward head, is inviting a bad health outcome. The martial arts teaches you to stop problems, not cause them. You can easily stop long-term damage through simple repositioning. You will look and feel better. That's using your head.


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Photos © Copyright Dr. Bookspan from the book Healthy Martial Arts

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.