Neck flexion is the ability to lower the chin down to the chest. This neck movement may be taken for granted until it becomes too painful. The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles, located on each side of the neck at the base of the skull and behind the ears, enable this movement to occur. These muscles stabilize the head and allow it to rotate from side to side and bend forward toward the chest. Neck strain to these muscles can result in pain and loss of mobility. Neck pain is a common medical complaint, and neck flexion pain, in particular, seems to be on the increase.
Causes of Neck Flexion Pain
A number of factors may contribute to neck flexion pain, tightness, and decreased mobility.
- Poor Posture – Often spending too many hours hunched over a computer or cell phone. Sometimes referred to as “text neck”, the head is forced forward, shoulders are rounded, and the back is slumped. Other activities that can lead to poor posture include reading, writing, and sewing.
- Sitting or driving for long periods of time
- Poor sleeping position
- Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder
- Whiplash injury or trauma following an accident, particularly a rear-end collision
Preventing Neck Flexion Discomfort
- Try to maintain good posture. Avoid looking down for extended periods while performing tasks. Adjust computer monitors to eye level and hold cell phones and other devices straight out in front rather than down.
- Take periodic breaks from sitting or driving. Stand up, move around, and stretch muscles before they become stiff.
- Sleep in a neutral position with head and neck aligned with the body. Avoid sleeping on the stomach. Use a pillow that supports the head and neck.
- Avoid carrying heavy shoulder bags. A backpack distributes the weight more evenly.
- Do neck flexion exercises to loosen muscles and prevent tightness. Easy stretches can relieve pressure and reduce pain. Upper neck extensions, with the patient bending the neck backward to look at the ceiling, can relieve the strain of looking down for too long. Gentle neck rotations can help improve range of motion. Ear to shoulder stretches can loosen the SCM muscles. Exercise movements should be slow and controlled without forcing the neck.
When to See a Doctor for Neck Pain
- Neck pain results from an accident or injury
- Pain is severe and interferes with normal activities
- Pain does not improve after a few weeks of self-care
- Pain radiates down an arm or leg
- Neck pain is accompanied by a high fever