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Planning Retirement Online

Home Exercise and Rehab

June 2012


Gina John Gina John is a Pilates Practitioner and Registered Osteopath who has spent many years offering help and advice, especially to the over 50 age group.

She is founder of The Osprey Clinic in the St. Johns Wood area of London and now specialises in Home Exercise and Rehabilitation Programmes. For further advice on exercising safely, and a selection of exercise films for general fitness and medical conditions, visit the website:




This month Gina looks at improving posture to ease a stiff neck.



Q: I wake up most mornings with a stiff neck. Will improving my posture in some way, or exercise help to improve this problem?

stiff neckA: There’s nothing like waking up with a stiff neck to put you off your stride for the day ahead!

Neck stiffness may simply be due to your neck posture while asleep, or having a restless night of twisting and turning in bed. But, chronic neck stiffness on waking is commonly caused by wear and tear, or degenerative changes between the vertebrae, often in the middle and lower part of the neck.

The top two vertebrae, referred to as the C1/C2 Joint or the Atlanto-axial Joint are responsible for 50% of neck rotation. But, if your neck muscles become tight, for whatever reason, this movement may be severely limited and other joints lower down in the neck and upper back will be forced to move excessively. Eventually, this causes pain, inflammation and degenerative changes.

While there is no disc between the C1 and C2 vertebrae, all the other vertebrae in the neck are separated by a disc, which in a young person has 80% water content. Discs provide structural integrity and shock absorbency for the spine, but become partially dehydrated and thinner over the time as part of the natural aging process. When this happens, the facet joints located on the lateral aspects of the spine move closer together, and this may cause spinal arthritis which involves
inflammation, changes in the shape of the bone and a stiffening of the muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint. The mobility of the neck may be affected by these changes and the muscles become overworked, presenting neck tension and pain.

Doctors may prescribe Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), or muscle relaxants such as Amitriptilyne to manage the symptoms. With symptomatic relief it is possible to pursue an exercise programme to provide the strength and support to the neck and improve and maintain mobility as far as possible. Considering your posture is also important.

Sitting Posture

sitting postureWhen sitting try not to let your shoulders roll forwards, as this will create tension at the base of the neck and over the top of the shoulders. Ensure that your chin is not poking forwards, as the muscles between your head and neck will become tight, limiting the rotation of the neck and putting excessive strain through the joints below.

During long period of sitting, especially car journeys or reading, ensure that your chin is not poking forwards. The neck is simply a continuation of the rest of the spine and it will feel most comfortable when held in a neutral or vertical position.

Sleeping Position

SleepingIt is unwise to sleep on your belly, as you will then need to keep your neck fully rotated and this will exacerbate any joint inflammation.

If you sleep on your side, keeping your neck in line with your upper back will help to avoid joint inflammation. You can check if your chin seems to be in line with the gap between your collar bones. If not, you may require extra pillows.

If you sleep on your back, the correct pillow height will enable you to sleep without your chin poking up to the ceiling.

Exercise Advice

Before going to bed, sit up straight and make sure that you are not poking your chin forwards. Take the left ear down to shoulder, by bending your neck to the left. Then straighten your neck fully again and bend your neck to the right, taking the right ear towards the shoulder.

Waking upOn waking, lie on your back with your head on the pillow ensuring that your chin is not poking up towards the ceiling. Roll your head towards the right shoulder, then back to look at the ceiling. Then roll your head to the left. Repeat ten times, moving gently and without forcing or twisting your neck.




Please send your questions for future columns, or feedback, by email to Gina John on



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