Tips from performance expert Dr. Zaki Afzal
Body aches and pains are common for many people, especially those that hit the gym hard! That is why we decided to take a slightly different approach to the articles and videos we typically have here on the blog and our YouTube channel.
We are starting a new series going over some body pains that most gym-goers have at some point.
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Lower back pain
- Hip pain
- Knee pain
- Ankle pain
Throughout this series, we will cover the entire body head to toe and give you some easy, safe, and simple ways you can FIX YOUR BODY AT HOME!!
We aren’t offering these tips from our point of view! We called in an expert!
We teamed up with Dr. Zaki Afzal — a highly skilled expert performance physical therapist out of Las Vegas that specializes in working with professional athletes and active adults.
We will be using his knowledge and expertise to show you how you can address common body pains you might be having and how you can ease them at home in an educated, safe, and simple way!
As Vince puts it in the video they filmed that demonstrates everything we discuss below, “Dr. Afzal is a complete gangster of his craft.”
We are lucky to have him as a special guest for this important series on how to keep your joints and muscles happy and healthy!
For our very article and video together, we will be talking about a part of the body many people complain of having aches and pains — and that is the neck!
Be it waking up with stiffness, difficulty moving it, or pinches and pains when doing certain exercises — issues with the neck are very common.
Dr. Afazl is going to go over a few reasons why your neck could be restricted and show you some easy and safe exercises you can do at home to get your neck pain free and functioning in a full range of motion!
**Important Disclaimer — Do not attempt any of these exercises at home if your neck issues are not related to joints and muscles. Dr. Afzal says that some signs your neck pain is NOT joint or muscular can include (but are not limited to) — numbness or tingling in arms, headaches that come about with neck pain, blurry vision, trouble hearing, trouble swallowing, trouble speaking, dizziness, or loss of balance.
Before following any tips in this article and video see a professional if you are unsure where your pains originate, or if you are having any of the above symptoms.
Fix Your Body with Dr. Zaki Afzal
PART ONE: NECK PAIN
Many of the correction exercises described below will be much easier for you to grasp if you VISUALLY see them.
Check out this video we filmed with Dr. Zaki and Vince going over each issue and demonstrating each corrective exercise in full detail!
Possible Reason #1: RESTRICTED NECK ROTATION
To determine if a limited range of motion could be the cause of your neck pain, you need to first check and see if you have a true range of motion limitation.
If you do, there can be several reasons, but it is usually related to your shoulders not moving the way you want, which can lead to things like neck stiffness in the morning!
Here is how you access your range of motion.
- Make sure you are totally relaxed and seated upright.
- Check “cervical rotation” (for how far your neck can rotate left and right by turning your neck as far as you can to the right and then to the left.
- Evaluate how close you can get your chin to your shoulder and compare sides and see if you feel limited rotation to either side.
If you feel like you can’t turn your head very far, or one side is more restricted than the other, this does not mean you have a neck rotation limitation!
To see your actual full neck range of motion, you need to lay down and repeat these steps while your neck is totally relaxed.
If your neck movement is better when you are laying down, you likely don’t really have a range of motion issue in your neck that is causing you pain.
If this is truly the source of your stiff neck, you will have the same range of motion limitations lying down as you did sitting up.
Simple Exercise To Fix Limited Neck Rotation
The answer to fixing this issue is NOT stretching. It’s building comfortability into the motion of neck rotation.
If you have trouble turning your head and when you lay down, you have more motion than when sitting up — this is a simple and safe exercise to restore your range of motion while sitting up!
- While lying down, turn your head as far as you can to the right.
- Take your right hand and place two fingers on your right temple.
- Push your head into those fingers to give a little resistance.
- Hold for about 15-30 seconds, relax, rest, repeat for 2 to 3 sets.
- Do this 2x a day until you feel consistent relief.
Sit back up and test it out! If you have a range of motion issue, you should see pretty immediate results! Your chin should get much closer to your shoulder than it was before!
**Depending on how severe your range of motion issues are, you could do this exercise once and only need to do it again as necessary, or you may need to perform it 2x a day for a more extended time.
Possible Reason #2: LIMITED UPPER BACK RANGE OF MOTION
Just because your neck hurts doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of something going on in your neck! It could be because of your upper back.
A lot of the muscles that attach to your shoulder blade run to the base of your skull and throughout your neck. If you are limited in the motions of your shoulder blade, you will have a hard time moving your neck in its full range and may feel pain and stiffness in this area.
People are often taught to pinch their shoulder blades together to have good posture. But Dr. Afzal says if you are always sitting tall with your shoulders pinched together, the upper back muscles that run up to your neck will always be “on” and stiff, leading to a limited range of motion and rotation in the neck and result in neck pain and stiffness.
If this is the cause of your neck pain and stiffness, you will need to train your shoulder blades to open up, get some air in the area, and allow it to breathe.
Simple Band Exercise To Open Up Your Shoulder Blades
For this exercise, you will need a resistance band. The goal of the band is NOT for you to build muscle. You will not be pulling up on the band; you will actually be letting the band “win.”
- Sit on a solid surface with feet dangling (not touching ground)
- Loop a resistance band under the bottom of your feet.
- While holding the band with both hands, let the band pull you down. You don’t want to go to where our chin touches your chest. You just want your arms to be long and your spine and head totally relaxed.
- While in this lowered position, you will try to turn your palms up. You should feel your upper back open up when you do this.
- Take 8-15 deep breaths through your nose and try to push the air between your shoulder blades. How do you direct air? It is more of a learned feeling. To see it in action and learn more by clicking HERE.
- Do 2-3 sets.
- Make sure you AVOID shrugging your shoulders to your ears!! If you do this, it will turn on the muscles we are trying to get to relax!
You should get pretty instant relief and a better range of motion. If your neck isn’t turning better after trying this, then pinched together shoulder blades probably isn’t the root cause of your neck pain and stiffness.
Possible Reason #3: USING INCORRECT FORM FOR ROWS AND PULL-UPS
If the exercises above help open up your back some but don’t really change the way your neck moves, or if these exercises help, but you then have neck pain again during or after exercising, you probably need to check your form when performing exercises such as rows and pulldowns.
Most people are taught to keep their shoulder blades “pinched back” through the entire range of motion for many back exercises – such as rows.
If you do this, all the muscles in your back will be “on” the whole time. As you let the weight go and you stretch forward if you aren’t letting go of the shoulder blades, all of your muscles in your back will remain “on,” and you will no longer know how to work in a full range of motion.
An Easy Form Fix To Consider
When rowing, as you stretch your arms back forward and let the weight drop back down, you want to allow your shoulder blades to go all the way forward.
Make sure you do this without slumping down. Just let your shoulder blades go forward. This is a great way to open up and ensure your neck isn’t taking the strain during your row.
You can use this same theory with pull-downs.
With pulldowns, a lot of people set their shoulder blades down and back (like you are putting them in your back pockets.) This isn’t a bad position but typically won’t allow you to go through a FULL range of motion since about 33-40% of movement comes from your shoulder blades.
As you reach up, make sure you let your shoulder blades go up so that you get a full lat stretch. This will ensure you get that full range of motion you are looking for when you pull down!
BEFORE TRYING ANY OF THESE NECK PAIN FIXES…
Don’t forget that you should not attempt any of these exercises if your neck issues are not related to joints and muscles. Please talk to your doctor.
Make sure you also watch THIS VIDEO to see everything in action! It’s much easier to get a visual before you attempt these corrective exercises on your own.
And remember, as you perform these movements, keep in mind everyone’s body is different! How much pressure you use, how far you stretch, how many seconds you hold, etc., will all be very individual!
Just like you would with weights and cardio, if needed, start small and work your way up in intensity and frequency!
One more thing …
A one size fits all approach won’t work with all body issues. This series addresses some common problems MOST people have that have easy at-home solutions that should work for most people.
But there is one time, a “one size fits all” approach never works, and that is when picking the diet and training program you use to reach your body goals!
To get the best results in the fastest time, you need to eat, lift and do cardio in a way that is best for your own unique genetics.
If you don’t know your body type, we created a body type quiz that anyone can take! It’s free, only 6 questions, will instantly tell you what your body type is, and give you some free tips on how to figure out how you should be exercising and eating to see the best results! CLICK HERE to check it out!
Next week we will continue our “Fix Your Body” series with Dr. Afzal. Make sure you come back to see what body part we are helping you with next!
In the meantime, if you have any questions about this neck pain article and video you can leave them in the comment section HERE.