Five things every surfer should do for their neck
As a surfer, you rely on your neck to be functioning well every time you paddle out. The demands on your neck from surfing are huge, and if you’ve ever had a crook neck, you’ll understand just how debilitating it is on your ability to paddle and surf (try doing a cutty without looking over your shoulder).
But the impact of poor neck function goes much deeper than you may realise. The neck is an incredibly complex and important part of your body, controlling everything from your vision and balance trough to your arm strength, and neglecting good neck health could very easily cut your surfing career short.
Before we get into the 5 key exercises that will keep your neck in good form, let's explore some of the amazing functions of the neck (there’s probably a few you would never have guessed):
- Almost every nerve in the body first travels through the neck (via the spinal cord). Second only to the brain, the neck holds the power supply to your entire body.
- The nerves that exit in between the vertebrae in your neck control both the movement and sensation in your arms and hands. That is why a pinched nerve in the neck can be felt all the way down in the forearm or hand (usually as pain, tingling or numbness).
- The nerves from the upper neck are responsible for sensation on the face and head. This is why it’s possible to experience a headache that is in fact not coming from the head at all, but actually originating in the neck. Neck-related headaches are called cervicogenic headaches.
- Your neck allows you to control the position of your head, therefore influencing your vision (via the eyes), balance (via the vestibular system inside the ear) and hearing (positioning of the ears).
- Due to the important relationship between the positioning of your head and your vision, the muscles that control your eyes are closely linked to those controlling the neck. If there is dysfunction in the neck and the messages to the brain about head position do not match the messages from the eyes, this can result in dizziness, blurry vision and unsteadiness. This is referred to as cervicogenic vertigo (meaning dizziness coming from the neck).
- The neck houses the Vagus nerve, which is one of your cranial nerves known to have an incredibly important role in the health of your whole body. The Vagus nerve is the main nerve in the body responsible for the “rest & digest” response and regulating stress. It helps to control your heart, liver, gut, breathing and inflammatory responses. It also plays a critical role in both speaking (allowing you to communicate) and swallowing (allowing us to fuel your body through eating).
- The muscles and joints in the neck have 10x more “proprioceptors” than any other part of the body. Proprioceptors are little receptors that send messages from your muscles and joints into your brain about the position of your body. The extra proprioceptors in the neck are due to the importance of head positioning (controlled via the neck) on your survival (through balance, vision and hearing accuracy). Whilst this is a good thing, it also means that our pain sensitivity in this area can be significantly increased.
- Freedom of movement: some joints in the body are designed for stability and do not allow movement in multiple directions (e.g. the knee), whilst others are designed for mobility and allow large amounts of multi-directional movement (e.g. shoulder). The neck plays an important role in ensuring you can accurately position your head (mobility), whilst also creating optimal stability for all of the important functions of the face and head (vision, hearing, etc). This results in the neck containing a large number of very mobile joints, overlayed with a network of both “stability” and “mobility” muscles. The complex relationship between these very mobile joints and the two types of muscles that control them results in a beautiful system when working well, but has the potential to result in significant pain and dysfunction when things go wrong.
Now that you appreciate how important your neck is to your long-term surfing career, let me show you the 5 exercises you should do before every surf.
Stay NECKcellent amigos.
Caelum Trott - The NECKspert
Caelum is a physio and surfer from Sydney’s eastern beaches. You can find him at www.ahsmp.com