The deep cervical neck flexor muscles longus capitis, longus colli, rectus capitis anterior, rectus capitis lateralis are not only important neck stabilizers and postural muscles, but impaired and/or delayed activation of these deep cervical flexors can cause headaches and/or neck pain and lead to a reduction of the tissues size (atrophy).
There are more muscles in the neck than degrees of freedom. The degrees of freedom refers to the number of ways we can move our head and neck in space. Having more muscles than movement allows us to substitute, that is, assist an action with muscles that are not deemed to be prime in an action. A simple illustration would be, waking up in the morning with a ‘stiff neck’ and though having discomfort, still have the ability to function, moving the head and neck while the injured area recovers throughout the day.
Being able to substitute as muscles recover post strain or injury is a wonderful aspect of human function, but it is also imperative that we return our structures to normalcy once traumatized. Continual alteration of normal neural flow can and will lead to atrophy of the affected area and a lingering alteration of neural pathways. These deep cervical flexors are keys to neck pain relief and restoration of muscular activity and structural posture — their function must be addressed.
The craniocervical flexion test (CCFT) is a clinical test of the anatomical action of the aforementioned deep cervical flexor muscles. The craniocervical flexion examination tests the isometric endurance of these inmost muscles and looks at their interaction with the superficial cervical flexors.
In a study in the 2016, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, researchers used this test and electromyography and found that “Individuals with smaller deep cervical flexor muscles exhibited increased activity in the sternocleidomastoid during the CCFT.” The sternocleidomastoids are much more powerful and assist the weaker musculature in movement. It is also known that those with ‘neck pain disorders’ alter their neuromotor control and movement strategies and have reduced activity in the inner cervical flexors, factors that lead to substitution.
Neck trauma is commonplace whether it be due to aggressive participation in sport, occurrences such as whiplash, concussions or be it neglect. This reformed neuromotor control, increased activity in the superficial flexors and atrophy ensures that strength training must be done.
Include in the athletes training protocol a 10-15 degree movement that flexes the head. This head action is a short distinct movement that is disassociated from a neck exercise. It is done by placing the neck pad work arm in one of the last four holes on the Pendulum 4 or 5 Way Head and Neck Machine’s cam. Once the weight is set the athlete performs the exercise by flexing the head leading and pulling with his/her chin.
The Pendulum 4 and 5 Way Neck Machines were designed to be able to address head and and neck movement to properly train the complex region of the upper spine.