This is a foundational exercise. The deep neck flexors are like the “core” of your neck and understanding how to activate them is critical to many other exercises. Building strength and endurance in your deep neck flexors can help greatly in the treatment of many different neck conditions. There is a body of research that shows that the deep neck flexor muscles are inhibited (“shut down”) in people with a variety of different neck conditions. This research also suggests that the training these muscles can be very important during rehabilitation. Individuals with whiplash, disc herniations, cervical stenosis or just general mechanical neck pain can all benefit from deep neck flexor conditioning.
It is important to feel this exercise in the correct place. The video below provides many different cues to help teach you to activate your deep neck flexors and teaches you where you should feel the exercise.
What you should feel
When you first learn to activate your deep neck flexors, you may not feel anything right away. Don’t be discouraged. As you perform your repetitions, you should start to feel it! When you become proficient, you will feel it right away!
When you engage your deep neck flexors, you should feel it directly in the front of your neck. They live behind the trachea, in front of your vertebrae (see photo below). Sometimes it will feel like a pressure building up in the front of your neck but eventually it should feel like a workout! That is to say, you should start to feel muscle fatigue as you would if you were lifting a weight with your arm as much as you could.
Stop this exercise if you are unsure about what you are feeling or if it is painful in an unexpected way.
Deep Neck Flexor Activation
Here are the instructions and there is a video below that explains it all:
- Ly on your back on a firm surface.
- Tuck your chin into your chest (read below, important)
To make sure you perform the chin tuck properly:
- Do not lift up your head from the table / floor.
- Try not to engage your SCM (sternocleidomastoid) muscle (see photo below). The SCM attaches to your sternum and collar bone, and runs to the mastoid process of your skull (which is just below the ear.
- This can be done by placing your hand(s) on your SCM. If you feel it engage or “pop-out”, then return to the starting position and retry without engaging it.
- Alternatively, you can place a hand over the trachea, close to where the deep neck flexors are (they are actually behind the trachea). Having your hand here can help you to engage these muscles a little bit better.
- Look down with your eyes and keep looking down as your perform the chin tuck. This will also help you to engage them a bit better!
- (Optional) Place a towel in the space between your neck / base of skull and the table / floor.
- As you perform the chin tuck, your base of skull will press into the towel. You can try to focus on this as well as using the muscles in the front of your neck to achieve a better activation.
mdkPHYSIO provides specific parameters to all patients. In most cases we start this exercise performing repetitions of 5 to 10 second holds, until fatigue and performing it at least once per day.