Maybe you have a daily stretching routine. Or maybe you take a fitness class where the instructor has you warm up or cool down by rolling your neck.
It may (or may not) feel good while you are doing it. However, I recommend you don’t roll your neck. Keep reading to learn why.
Joints in the body are designed for specific movements depending on the body part. The joints in the cervical vertebrae (neck) are designed for three planes of movement. These three planes are flexion/extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. Flexion and extension are when you bring your chin to your chest and when you tilt your head to look upward, respectively. Lateral flexion involves bringing your ear toward your shoulder. And rotation is when you turn your head/neck right and left.
There are only two joints in the body that are designed to move in any direction. These are known as “ball and socket” joints. They are located in the hips and shoulders. These joints can, and should be rolled in order to help keep the joint and cartilage healthy. The rest of the joints in the body are not designed this way and therefore should not be rolled.
Moving a joint in a way that it is not designed to move can (and most likely will) cause more harm than good, regardless of how good it feels in the moment. The cartilage can wear down and eventually lead to degenerative joint disease. It’s best to simply accentuate a joint’s movement planes while stretching or warming up.
That being said, you can combine joint plane movements in the neck in order to get a good stretch. Flexion combined with rotation or lateral flexion, and lateral flexion combined with rotation is how this would be done in the neck. Any combination is fine. However, if you prefer to extend your neck (looking up), I don’t recommend combining extension with rotation. This is because the vertebral arteries (which supply a substantial amount of blood to the brain) can become compressed when you extend and rotate your neck.
So again, continue to stretch and warm up the joints in your neck, but avoid rolling your neck. This same concept applies to the ankles which are also commonly rolled, but do not have a ball and socket joint.
Lastly, avoid any movements that cause pain. Pain implies that you most likely have muscle imbalances and joint restrictions which are best addressed through the help of a competent, licensed chiropractic applied kinesiologist.
I hope this article helps you keep your joints healthy for a lifetime!
Dr. Rob D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Diplomate and board-certified teacher of the International College of Applied Kinesiology