The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Upper Back Exercise and Neck Pain Prevention Too

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Western boxers and students of many martial arts are often taught to hunch their shoulders and lower their head to protect their neck. Box-aerobics students (and teachers) also often jut their head forward thinking it looks tough, or more authentic. It doesn't protect the neck as hoped, and conversely produces neck and shoulder problems, some immediately, others over time. It also reduces effectiveness of the punching exercise, and to people who know martial arts, it doesn't look tough, it looks weak.

Look at the photo at left. The student on the right is holding his head severely forward (orange arrow). The teacher at right in the foreground is holding his neck and head properly, relaxed and upright (white arrow). The teacher and student in the background also are holding their neck in position that is healthy for the neck and shoulder, and makes punching more effective.

What are some of the problems of forward head angle and hunched shoulder?

  • Keeping your head forward brings it closer to your opponent, easier to hit.
  • In case of a head strike, a tilted angle of the neck to the brain and skull is more likely to result in brain injury.
  • Hunching the shoulder can injure the neck and shoulder muscles
  • Hunching results in tight, aching neck and shoulders.
  • When you keep your head and shoulders forward, it rotates the shoulder bone forward. When you raise your arm with your neck forward, the soft tissue of the rotator cuff gets pinched between the arm bone and the shoulder bone. Eventually the bones can saw away at the rotator cuff muscles trapped between them, enough to get a tear.
  • The same pinching between shoulder and arm bone can compress the nerve(s) that go down your arm, resulting in tingling, pain, numbness, weakness.

All the above problems can easily stop and reverse when you stop the cause - the forward head angle and hunched shoulder. Start with the post Fixing Upper Back and Neck Pain.

The muscles you use to hold your head and neck upright instead of forward are your upper back and posterior shoulder muscles. It is a free upper back and posterior deltoid and shoulder workout by standing relaxed but straight, and exercising that way too.

When you watch movies of Mohammed Ali fighting, watch for his healthy, straight, graceful neck positioning. For doing martial arts and boxing aerobics, you can protect your chin and brace your neck without hunching and injuring your neck and shoulder. For exercise classes and just moving around the house you get more upper back exercise and stop injuring your neck and shoulder all at the same time by using your muscles to hold yourself upright instead of sagging. Stop neck injury from exercise. Exercise is supposed to be healthy.

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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

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

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