Dr Julia Sen: So Long Polo Neck, Hello Halter Neck!

Necks have a tough gig. Think about it – every day your neck has to support and balance a whopping 5kg ball, allowing movement in multiple directions, whilst protecting your spinal cord and airway from getting squished and killing you in the process. Phew! Talk about a high pressure job! Despite this we rarely give our necks a second thought until we start to experience pain or notice it looking a bit, erm…. saggy. So how can we help this miracle of bioengineering perform its duties whilst simultaneously looking fabulous, writes Dr Julia Sen.

Why do we develop neck problems?

The changes associated with “normal” wear and tear become apparent as early as our twenties, according to MRI imaging studies, with thinning of the cartilage discs between the bones of the neck (cervical vertebrae) long before any symptoms begin. Subsequent degenerative changes in the facet joints between the vertebrae and the growth of osteophytes (small bony spikes) can result in narrowing of the spaces though which the nerves emerge. If these nerves are pinched, the result is muscular spasm and intense pain in the head, neck, shoulders, arms or back. This, sadly is a common problem. In the UK between 2019 and 2020, 8.9 million days were lost to musculoskeletal problems of this kind, according to the UK Health and Safety executive.

What is “Forward Head Posture”?

A forward head posture makes us more susceptible to neck problems. This results from longterm imbalances of the muscles in the neck, of which there are more than 20. These are perfectly in balance when our posture is good (think dancer: upright, shoulders back and chest lifted). Poor posture and long periods spent in neck flexion, disrupt this equilibrium, increasing the tone of the platysmal muscles (that run from chin to collarbone) and shortening the deep muscles at the back of the neck. The result is the forward head posture sometimes referred to as “chicken neck”. Although we associate this posture with old age, changes in work and lifestyle in recent years have led to this developing earlier in life for many.

What causes a double chin?

Being overweight is the most common cause but as this tendency can run in families, you may be able to blame your parents, as I like to do with my various flaws and imperfections (sorry Mum!). Additionally, the neck is an area of our bodies that gets exposure to the elements, resulting in thinning, loss of elasticity and pigmentary abnormalities in the skin. As a result, the neck is one of the most aesthetically problematic areas for many of my clients. The good news is that effective rejuvenation is now possible with a range of interventions which do not have to involve surgery. The Morpheus 8 radiofrequency device remodels and firms the deep tissues and tightens the skin with little or no downtime. Kim Kardasian, Amanda Holden and Judy Murray are celebrity fans and having tried it for myself, I’m a big fan too!

How can we best protect our necks from future damage?
  1. Posture: Observe your habits and try to adopt a neutral neck position at work and at rest, adjusting your chair height or computer screen to practice good “neck hygiene”.
  • Breaks: If you spend long periods of time engaging in close work, take regular breaks and move around.
  • Exercise: A 2018 study in the Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy, demonstrated that stretching exercises targeting the neck and upper back muscles were more effective than workstation modifications alone. Practices such as yoga and pilates are excellent for stretching and mobilising a stiff neck and back, however any regular exercise can help to reduce stress-induced muscle tension in these areas.
  • Phone habits: Use headphones or the speaker function rather than holding the phone to your ear with your shoulder. Habitual lateral flexion accelerates wear and tear damage in your neck.
  • Load distribution: Avoid carrying heavy loads in front of you or on one shoulder; this throws your neck and upper back out of alignment.
  • Sleeping position: Are you using the correct pillow to support a neutral neck alignment? Back or front sleepers may be better off without a pillow at all.
  • Weight Control. Being overweight accelerates the changes in the neck which can lead to forward head posture and pain.
  • Skincare: Ensure you include the neck in your daily regime. The holy trinity of neck skin care    includes an AHA, retinoid and daily sunscreen.
Exercises for your neck

1) Sitting up straight with your chin tucked in, move your chin backwards (you can use a finger on your chin to feel it move back 1-2cm. You will feel a stretch at the back of your neck. Hold for 5 seconds.

2)  Hug your arms around your chest, feeling for the lower edge of your shoulder blades. Hold for 5 seconds.

3) Interlace your hands behind your head, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 5 seconds

Perform the exercises below, 20-30 reps daily, all at once or at intervals throughout the day.

So ditch the poor posture and give your neck some much deserved love to allow it to support you comfortably and look smooth and youthful for years to come!

Love Julia x

For more information or to book an appointment go to www.drjuliasen.co.uk, email [email protected] or call 07548 964367.
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