I’ve been running a series of Nordic walking tasters this week as part of the Bristol Walk Fest and at one of the workshops someone asked if Nordic walking could help with neck pain. My answer was Yes.
NICE (The National Institute for Care and Health Excellence) estimates that between 40 and 70 per cent of us will suffer neck pain during our lives. What causes it? NICE sites poor posture especially when sitting as the number one cause for neck pain followed by a poor sleeping position. Third on their list is carrying bags in an uneven way – slinging your daypack or handbag on one shoulder for instance instead of distributing the weight in an even way across your body.
Nordic walking can’t change your sleeping position or the way you carry shopping and bags, but it can help in the following ways:
Nordic walking helps establish good posture and acts as a trigger to hold yourself with proper alignment. This eventually spills over into the rest of your life including when sitting. I have a checklist which goes something like this:
- Lengthen your spine separating your discs and vertebrae by imagining your spine is like an accordion which you are stretching open. Especially lengthen your spine up the back of your neck right into your head.
- Lift your head up and away from your shoulders. Slide your chin back so that your ears sit more over your shoulders (it might give you a double chin but that’s okay). Keep your chin level.
- Roll your shoulders back and down. Don’t let them creep up towards your ears.
- Lift your chest up and away from your hips. The gap between your hips and your ribcage is probably THE MOST IMPORTANT GAP IN YOUR BODY.
- Rock your hips/pelvis backwards and forwards until you find the position where your hips would be level enough to balance a tray of drinks without spilling anything.
Nordic walking encourages the gentle rotation of your upper body as you walk. It’s part of our natural walking movement but most of us no longer do it automatically. This movement strengthens the muscles between the base of your shoulder blades and releases tension in your shoulders and neck. It’s also great for your lower back and is a key reason why physios love Nordic walking.
Integrated whole body walking movement
Walking is a functional and holistic body movement which humans have been doing for ever. Unfortunately, most of us no longer do it properly. Nordic walking encourages correct body movement, so that you’re contracting, releasing, rotating, and extending your muscles in an integrated way. It also engages your upper body in the act of walking so that your whole body not just your legs propel you forwards (when done properly Nordic walking uses around 90% of your muscles). All of this helps release neck tension and lessen pain. In a 2017 study, Nordic walking was shown to have significantly reduced neck and shoulder pain in office workers.
If you are interested in further reading around neck pain and self-help, you might be interested in the book 7 Steps to a Pain-free Life (how to rapidly relieve back, neck, and shoulder pain) by Robin McKenzie. Top tip: your head position is crucial.