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  Reprinted from Mature Fitness (formerly published as the Senior Fitness Bulletin) by
 permission of the American Senior Fitness Association (800) 243-1478,



    By Mary Ann Wilson, R.N.


Mary Ann Wilson, an SFA National Advisory Board member, is the host of public television's popular Sit and Be Fit@ workout series. She teaches in retirement homes where participants are 80 to 100 years old and often use wheelchairs, walkers and canes. For a brochure describing Sit and Be Fit@ video products, contact: P.O. Box 8033, Spokane WA 99203-0033 (509) 448-9438 or visit the SIT AND BE FIT website at .

Pain in the Neck?

On some days, the weight of the world might feel as though it is concentrated on your shoulders near the base of the neck. Quite a heavy load, isn't it? This comes as no surprise since the neck muscles are on constant duty, holding the head, which weighs ten to twelve pounds, in an upright position. During the course of the day, a person's head, normally centered on the neck, may move forward because of gravity and daily activities. Forward carriage of the head and neck can add up to thirty pounds of pull on the cervical spine. This is the major reason for tightness in the back of the neck. It's no wonder some of your students come to exercise class already fatigued and lacking energy.


Poor posture is also a culprit that causes neck pain. Not only is poor posture unattractive, but it also:

  1. produces dominance of one muscle group over another, causing muscle strain and creating pain and abnormal bite;

  2. restricts spinal nerves, which can in turn produce numbness or weakness in hands, arms, and fingers;

  3. affects blood and nerve supply;

  4. throws the body off balance, which can lead to increased incidence of falls and the possibility of fractures.

How do we help our students to lift that load off their shoulders? First, we concentrate on establishing good posture with proper spinal alignment.

Get the neck in good alignment. Touch the chin with hand.

Pull the chin back and away from hand

Neck Alignment

  1. Sitting up tall in the chair, align the neck by keeping the head high, touching chin with hand, and then pulling the chin in and away from the hand. See pictures A and B.

  2. Relax the jaw and face muscles. Now open the mouth slightlyso the teeth are not clenched.

  3. Rest the tongue on the roof of the mouth just behind the teeth, gently touching roof of the mouth with tip of the tongue.

  4. Visualize a string attached to the chest. Pull the string up -- lifting the chest. This automatically lifts the head, placing it in proper alignment.

  5. Align the chin by touching chin and pulling back away from hand.

  6. Stabilize head by resting the chin in the left hand with finger and thumb along the line of the jaw bone.

  7. Now slide right hand up the back of neck to the base of skull.

  8. Gently pull the base of skull straight up as though trying to lift the head off the shoulders.

  9. Now relax the shoulders. This exercise will lengthen the neck, stretch the muscles on the back of neck, and increase the space between the cervical vertebrae.


Now let's exercise the neck by using isometric exercises to ease stiffness and become more flexible. Keep in mind that in isometric exercise, there is little or no joint movement. In these exercises, the hand provides resistance. Also, remember these keys to successful isometric exercise:

  1. Breathe constantly; DO NOT HOLD BREATH;

  2. Keep the neck aligned;

  3. Use only slow movements for the neck; and

  4. Stay in your comfort range.


Isometric Neck Exercise #1

1. Sitting in the chair, put one hand on the waist and bring the other beside your head with the palm on your cheek.

2. Breathe in and as you breathe out, GENTLY press your head into the hand as though you are trying to bring ear down to shoulder.

3. Resist with the hand. Do not allow head or hand to move. Count out loud to the count of three. (Counting out loud assures you that your participants are breathing and not holding their breath.)

4. Take another breath in, relax, and repeat the exercise.

5. Now while still maintaining good neck alignment, lean head to the left as if trying to touch left shoulder. Using your right arm, press right palm down toward floor for a stretch from your right hand through your neck. By stretching the muscles, range of motion is improved.

6. Repeat on other side.

Isometric Neck Exercise #2

1. Clasp hands behind head. As you move elbows back, PULL CHIN IN and move your head back into the hands, pressing GENTLY to the count of three, then release.

2. Blow out gently through the mouth with each passing movement.

3. Do this exercise four times.

Isometric Neck Exercise #3

1. In addition to the above exercises or to add variety, place your left hand on the side of your head, palm facing the cheek. Touch your chin with the fingers of your right hand to support the head.

2. GENTLY and VERY SLIGHTLY, turn head to the left, meeting resistance from your left hand. Do not allow the head or hand to move. Count out loud to the count of three.

3. Repeat exercise on other side.

By making sure the neck is properly aligned and the neck muscles are stretched and limber, neck pain and strain are kept at a minimum. As an exercise instructor, you've done your part in reducing the weight of the world on your students' shoulders!


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