This might surprise you: much of our spinal health begins in the cervical vertebrae of the neck. If you’ve ever suffered an injury to this area of the spine, then you know how far-reaching and varied the effects can be.
Such widespread influence is due in part due to the phrenic nerve, which begins in the first four cervical vertebrae and branches down the right and left sides of your body, passing through the thorax and innervating the diaphragm muscle.
This gives us a glimpse into why Forward Head Posture (FHP), which compresses and misaligns the cervical vertebrae, can result in harmful health consequences including neck pain, headaches, breathing difficulty, and even digestive troubles.
This weekend’s effective yet simple exercise decompresses the neck vertebrae by bringing them out of retraction and into extension.
As the central supporting structure of your body, the spine is of utmost importance. Injury or damage to the spine can result in paralysis of internal organs and extremities, chronic pain, and other problems that include the full scope of your bodily landscape.
Yet without realizing it, we can cause slow, degenerative damage to the spine by misuse and abuse over the years. One of the most prevalent ways the spine becomes compromised is through poor posture, which goes hand-in-hand with sedentary living.
Don’t Sit This One Out
It’s perfectly normal to sit down now and then; no one can stand up all the time. But chronic, prolonged sitting can have serious health consequences. For more on how sitting destroys your bones and health, please read the following post:
It’s fascinating to contemplate how sitting down for long periods can have such far-reaching, detrimental health effects, including reduced longevity. As you consider the postural malfunctions that occur with excessive sitting, you’ll begin to see connections between the position of your spine and the rest of your body.
The most easily overlooked yet detrimental posture error that modern humans make is Forward Head Posture, or FHP.
Forward Head Posture (FHP) Defined
FHP is more than just poking your head forward for a moment. It’s a gradual, almost constant position of the head where your ears are in front of your shoulders (instead of directly above them) and your neck is stretched at an outward angle from the shoulders. In other words, FHP means your head is in front of (anterior to) your center of gravity — and remains in that position most of the day.
Sitting and watching TV, reading, texting, typing, and other modern activities are all aspects of the sedentary lifestyle that’s become so prevalent in modern society, and they all contribute to FHP.
It’s worth considering that FHP plays a role in the damaging effects of prolonged sitting, and some of that is often due to the phrenic nerve.
The Role Of The Phrenic Nerve
This important nerve has its roots in the third, fourth, and fifth cervical vertebrae. It divides into two branches, left and right, taking different paths down the respective sides of the body. Both the right and left phrenic nerves end at the diaphragm muscle, with each phrenic nerve controlling its corresponding side.
The diaphragm is the primary muscle involved in respiration, so it stands to reason that a compressed, compromised phrenic nerve could prevent deep, alkalizing breaths that are important for building strong bones.
Please click the link below to learn more on deep breathing and its effects on bone health:
When the cervical vertebrae are out of alignment and in a state of extension in the upper cervical vertebrae and flexion in the lower ones, which occurs in FHP, it throws everything out of balance and contributes to overall poor posture and weak bones. Headaches, shoulder tension, and neck pain can also result.
The following exercise involves neck retraction, which directly counteracts the extension and flexion of FHP, thus bringing your neck and head into the correct position for optimal balance, breathing, and overall health. In addition, according to a thorough study on this topic, exercises like this one not only correct the cervical misalignment associated with FHP; they also bring significant pain relief.1
- Stand or sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed.
- Bring your chin straight back as if to form a double chin. Don’t bring your chin down toward your chest; slide it back horizontally. It might help to have a mirror to make sure you’re doing it correctly.
- With your chin in the slid-back position, tilt your head as if looking up at the ceiling. Hold for a few seconds.
- Bring your head back down to face front again, your chin still back.
- Now allow your chin to slide forward again to return to the original, neutral position.
- Repeat three to six times. You can practice this move multiple times a day.
Note: if this exercise is painful at any point, stop. Choose another neck exercise that doesn’t hurt, and talk to your doctor or physical therapist to find an exercise that’s right for you.
Here are two other Weekend Challenges that also align the cervical vertebrae, and make good followups to this weekend’s move:
It’s All Connected
The body’s systems are all interconnected, and the spine acts as a unifying central command. If you already got the Densercise™ Epidensity Training System, then you’re well aware of how frequently the spine is addressed in the 50+ moves at the heart of the Densercise™ system.
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That’s because a strong, flexible spine is central to achieving optimal bone density through exercise and bone-smart nutrition. A strong back helps you to build strong bones!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this weekend’s exercise. Please feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Have a great weekend!
1 Abdulwahab, Sami S. PhD, PT and Sabbahi, Mohamed PhD, PT, ECS. “Neck Retractions, Cervical Root Decompression, and Radicular Pain.” Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy. 30. 1. (2000): 4-12. PDF. http://www.jospt.org/doi/pdf/10.2519/jospt.2000.30.1.4?code=jospt-site