Neck Circles - Neck Rolls

By Dr Guy Ashburner | September 2, 2018

Neck Circles - Neck Rolls

“The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Thomas a. Edison

Neck Circles or Neck Rolls are a warm up movement sometimes done prior to exercise or as an attempt to relieve neck and shoulder tension accumulated from poor posture, poor spinal and upper back mobility and stress after a long day. Circling the head is NOT a natural movement for the neck.

Neck circles or Neck Rolls are performed by tucking the chin to the chest, and then rolling the head in a circular motion in an attempt to stretch the muscles and release joints of the neck. Neck Circles pose a risk to the neck due to the simultaneous combined motion of backwards bending of the neck, turning of the head, and side bending of the head and neck, sometimes with high speed motion. This motion puts the head and neck in an extreme position thus increasing the potential for both compression and hyperextension of the (neck) cervical spine, resulting instability and injury.

Each neck movement performed individually within comfortable ranges for that individual is normal. However the older you get the less mobility you are likely to have in your neck.

Neck joints allow for the neck to move through a normal range of motion. Since the circular neck rolling motion of the head is not a normal movement which causes the little facet joints on the back of the neck (cervical vertebra) to glide and compress against each other which can cause further damage to already degenerated cartilage surfaces. This can destabilize the facet joints and cause unnecessary wear and tear of these neck joints, which may make them more susceptible to degenerative changes. Neck circles can cause further damage to an already degenerated cartilage surface. Spinal instability could also lead to the narrowing of the spinal canal. With these degenerative changes, in certain neck positions, the foramen (where the nerves exit the spine) become even smaller and can compress or pinch the nerve, causing pain, numbness, and weakness wherever that nerve travels to in the arm. These symptoms can be mild and temporary or severe and persistent, requiring medical treatment. The effects of aging – wear and tear on the spine can cause all kinds of degenerative changes, including disc degeneration, bone spurs and cartilage degeneration.

When you move your head back beyond the point of just looking up, you can increase the potential for putting pressure on the vertebral arteries and with that reduce the blood flow to the brain. Neck circles can inhibit blood flow, particularly in the back of the neck where a pair of vertebral arteries carries about 25 percent of all blood going to the brain. (Bigger arteries in the front carry the other 75 percent.) This may cause dizziness. Neck circles are not safe and can cause all kinds of problems depending on the individual’s history: age, underlying spinal issues, the frequency of the activity, etc.

If you feel the need to stretch and relieve tension in your neck, take a moment to think about whether the stretch you are about to perform is actually safe. If you have any uncertainty with regards to neck stretches you are currently performing, schedule an appointment with your local osteopath for professional treatment, rehabilitation and postural advice to ensure that your neck does not become a pain in the neck and your spine remains as healthy as possible.


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