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Functional Fitness

by Val Walkowiak

How many times a day do you look over your shoulder while driving, shopping or performing everyday activities? Turning our head is something we do over and over and over again throughout the day. But, we usually do not realize its value or importance until we get a stiff neck. Stiff necks are usually a result of sleeping in an awkward position, but that is not always the case. As we get older, stretches for our neck and shoulders become even more important as we begin to lose range of motion.

Neck and shoulder stretching exercises can help increase range of motion and improve daily function. Performing the following exercises three to five days a week is a good way to start. Begin by sitting up tall in a chair with your hands placed on your thighs and feet flat on the floor. Breathe normally during these exercises. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Neck Exercises

  • Neck rotation: Look straight ahead. Slowly turn your head to the right as if you are going to look over your shoulder. Turn your head as far as is comfortable. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then slowly turn your head to the left and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat two times. Hint: Try to hold your shoulders still while performing this exercise.
  • Neck bends: Look straight ahead. Slowly bring your right ear down towards your right shoulder. Bend your neck as far as is comfortable. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Bring your head back to start position then bring your left ear down towards your left shoulder. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Repeat two times.

    Make sure you bring your ear to your shoulder and not your shoulder to your ear. If you don't feel the stretch, you can increase the stretch movement by holding onto the side of the chair with your hand. Example, if you are stretching the left side of your neck, hold on to the chair with your left hand.

  • Shoulder rolls: Look straight ahead. Slowly raise your shoulders up then rotate them back and down. Relax and repeat 10 times. This exercise helps to increase movements such as reaching across a table or up towards a high shelf. Inhale when raising your shoulders up and exhale when bringing them back down.
Your neck may make some cracking sounds while performing these exercises. If you feel pain or dizziness, stop performing the exercise. Only turn or bend your neck in a range of motion that is pain free and feels comfortable for you. If you have problems with your cervical column (neck) such as disc problems consult your physician before attempting these exercises.

Val Walkowiak is the medical integration coordinator at Loyola Center for Fitness. She can be reached at 708-327-3526.

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