Exercises for Deep Neck Flexors

What are the Deep Neck Flexors?

The Deep Neck Flexors are a group of muscles responsible for achieving and maintaining the ideal position of your head and neck.

It includes the following muscles: Longus Colli and Longus Capitis

Deep Neck Flexor Test

Are your Deep Neck Flexor muscles strong or weak? Find out now by performing this quick test.


Strength/Endurance Test

deep neck flexor test

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Use a pillow underneath your neck/head if required.
  • Keep your knees bent and feet on the floor.
  • Nod your chin towards your chest.
  • Lift your head off the floor.
  • Time how long you can hold this position.

Results: If you can’t hold this position for at least 30 seconds, you have weak Deep Neck Flexors!

Alternatively – You can request your Health Professional to perform the Craniocervical Flexion Test on you.


Deep Neck Flexor Exercises

1. Release the Neck Muscles

Before you start the Deep Neck Flexor exercises, I suggest that you Release the muscles on the back of your neck.

Why? The muscles which are located at the back of the neck will tend to compensate for Deep Neck Flexor weakness.


a) Posterior Neck Release

neck muscle release

Instructions:

  • Lie down on the floor.
  • Place a massage ball behind your neck.
  • Do not place the massage ball directly on any bony structure.
  • Apply an appropriate amount of weight.
  • Continue for 2 minutes each side.

Target area:

posterior neck release

2. How do you activate the Deep Neck Flexors?

It is vital to know how to activate the Deep Neck Flexors muscles properly.

Otherwise… you will end up recruiting and compensating with other neck muscles!


(NOTE: This is the most important part of this blog post! It is crucial that you completely understand what you should be feeling as you perform this activation exercise.)

DO NOT move onto the strengthening exercises until you get this right!

a) Deep Neck Flexor Activation

deep neck flexor activation exercise

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Place a pillow underneath your head if it is more comfortable.
  • Flatten your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
  • Relax your breathing.
  • Keep your neck completely relaxed.
  • Nod your chin towards your chest.
  • Aim to feel a gentle muscular contraction in the back of your throat.
  • There should also be a lengthening sensation at the back of your neck.

Note: There should be no activation of the superficial neck flexors (Sternocleidomastoid and Anterior Scalenes) as you perform this exercise.

You can place your hand onto the front of the neck to monitor for this.

3. Deep Neck Flexor Strengthening Exercises

The follow exercises are listed in order of difficulty.

Make sure to focus on performing the exercise correctly before progressing to the more difficult ones.


Neck Movements with Deep Neck Flexor Activation

The following exercises will involve engaging your Deep Neck Flexor muscles as you move your neck.

a) Chin Nod and Retraction

dnf chin nod retraction

Instructions

  • Sit up right.
  • Slightly nod your chin downwards.
  • Keep the back of your neck as elongated as possible through the exercise.
  • Gently slide your chin backwards.
  • Avoid over tensing your superficial neck muscles.
  • Aim for a gentle contraction at the back of your throat.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.

b) General Neck Movements

Instructions:

  • Sit upright
  • Gently tuck your chin in.
    • “Make a double chin.”
    • If you experience discomfort as you do this, fixate your gaze slightly lower and re-try tucking the chin in.
  • Aim to feel a gentle lengthening sensation at the back of your neck.
  • Make sure to keep your eyes and jaw level and move the head horizontally backwards.
    • Think of the movement like a book sliding back into the shelf.
  • Whilst maintaining the Deep Neck Flexor activation, move your neck in the following directions:
    • Up/Down
    • Rotate Side to Side
    • Tilt Side to Side
  • Perform 20 repetitions in each direction.

Isometric holds

The following exercises challenges the endurance of the Deep Neck Flexors.

c) 4 Point Kneel

neck retraction nod in 4 point kneel

Instructions:

  • Assume the 4 point kneel position.
  • Look at the floor space between your hands.
  • Tilt your shoulders backwards.
  • Keep your shoulders completely relaxed.
  • Retract your chin gently.
  • Nod your chin towards the upper chest.
  • Activate your Deep Neck Flexors.
  • Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

d) Prone Head Lift

chin retraction against gravity

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your stomach.
  • Gently tuck your chin in.
  • Nod your chin towards the upper chest region.
  • (Since you are moving your head against gravity, there is a greater challenge on your muscles.)
  • Aim to hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

e) Resistance Band

deep neck flexor exercise with resistance band

Instructions:

  • Loop a resistance band around the back of your head.
  • Hold onto the ends of the band with your hands in front of your head.
  • Pull the resistance band forwards.
  • Retract your chin gently against the resistance bands.
  • Nod your chin towards the upper chest.
  • Active the Deep Neck Flexors.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

f) Upright Isometric

deep neck flexor against resistance

Instruction:

  • Sit up right.
  • Nod your chin down towards the upper chest.
  • Retract your chin gently.
  • Place your fist directly underneath the chin.
  • Without moving the first, nod your chin down onto the fist.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

g) Side Lie

neck side bends

Instructions

  • Lie down on your side.
  • Move your chin closer to the upper chest.
  • Perform a gentle retraction of the chin.
  • Activate the Deep Neck Flexors.
  • Tilt your head towards the ceiling.
  • Maintain this position for 5 seconds.
  • Perform 10 repetitions.
  • Repeat on other side.

Challenging Exercises

Once you have developed an adequate amount of strength/endurance in the Deep Neck Flexors, progress to these more challenging exercises.

h) Lean Back

dnf exercise

Instructions:

  • Sit down on a chair with a backing.
  • Slide your hips down the seat.
  • Lean your torso backwards.
  • (The more you lean your torso backwards, the more demand placed on the Deep Neck Flexors.)
  • Aim to hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

i) Head Hover

advanced deep neck flexor exercise

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent.
    • (Support your head on a pillow if required.)
  • Gently flatten your tongue to the roof of your mouth throughout the exercise.
    • This will help engage the right muscles in the neck.
  • Tuck your chin in.
  • Nod your chin downwards.
  • Whilst keeping your chin in the nodded position, lift your head off the ground.
    • Imagine you are gently squashing an apple between your lower jaw and throat throughout movement.
  • Lift as high or as low as you are comfortable.
  • Aim to feel the contraction of the muscles at the front of your neck.
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Make sure that you DO NOT let your chin jut forward as you lift your head.

Note: If you find this exercise too difficult, support the weight of your head with your finger tips.


Address your Posture

a) Forward Head Posture

forward head posture

The Forward Head Posture is where the head pokes forwards relative to the torso.

If your head pokes forwards, this places the Deep Neck Flexors in an elongated position which is an inefficient position for the muscles function.

To optimize the function of the Deep Neck Flexor, make sure that you also address your head posture.

See post: Forward Head Posture

b) Thoracic Kyphosis

thoracic kyphosis

If you have a hunched upper back, this can place your head in a forward position.

For exercises to address this issue:

See post: Hunchback Posture

Any Questions?

Feel free to leave me a comment down below if you have any questions.


a) What causes weak Deep Neck Flexors?

In my opinion: The most common cause of weak Deep Neck Flexors is having the Forward Head Posture.

When the head pokes forwards, this places the muscles at the front of the cervical spine in an elongated position.

Over time – this position can weaken the Deep Neck Flexors.

Other Causes: Whiplash Associated Disorder following a car accident. (Trauma)

b) Why should you strengthen your Deep Neck Flexors?

Weakness in the Deep Neck Flexors can lead to over activity of the Sub-Occipital and muscles at the back of the neck.

This can lead to:

  • Increase stiffness and pain in the neck/shoulder muscles
  • Headaches
  • Pain in the Base of the Skull
  • Inability to maintain proper neck and head posture
  • Limited neck movements

c) How long does it take to strengthen the Deep Neck Flexors?

It takes approximately 4-6 weeks of consistent practice to activate the Deep Neck Flexors properly.

It will also take an additional 6-12 weeks of performing the exercises to notice a significant difference in your strength.


Conclusion

The Deep Neck Flexors is a group of muscles consisting of the Longus Colli and Longus Capitis which are located at the front of the cervical spine.

Collectively – the main role of these muscles is to stabilize and maintain the ideal head posture.

Weakness in these Deep Neck Flexors is very common and usually occurs in conjunction with a Forward Head Posture.

Progress through the exercises to gradually strengthen your Deep Neck Flexor muscles.


What to do next

1. Any questions?… (Leave me a comment down below.)

2. Come join me:

Facebook | Instagram

3. Start doing the exercises!


Disclaimer: The content presented on this blog post is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Use of the content provided on this blog post is at your sole risk. For more informationMedical Disclaimer.

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