Richard Kim - Neck Health

This week we have the opportunity to hear from one of the principle Physios from Activ Therapy, Richard Kim. Richard is a purple belt training with me at Movement Martial Arts and has been a fantastic in helping me with my back and neck pain.

Here's Richard fixing one of our student's neck issue 😁

Without further ado, here are some of Richard's advice on how to avoid and treat sore necks.

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Since I started training Jiu Jitsu the body area that people have asked me about most frequently is the neck. Most will just train through varying levels of neck pain and stiffness and generally just put it down to being part and parcel of grappling, in other cases, people will take a break until the pain gets good enough to come back but in a few of instances I’ve seen it be something that eventually leads people to stop training all together.


In the vast majority of cases though, there are simple things that could have been done to reduce the risk of injury in the first place and manage the pain once it’s there.


Now in some cases neck injury is hard to avoid. It’s a contact sport and a martial art , where you spar hard and compete, You might have been stacked awkwardly, maybe that flying triangle didn’t quite come off or you got stuck in the mother of all neck cranks. As a general rule, if something happens in a roll where everyone around you freezes then do yourself a favour and get it checked out as soon as possible.


Even if nothing major happened there are also a few signs to look out for. This could be pins and needles down the arm, numbness, headaches, dizziness, nausea or you can’t sleep because of the pain. The neck has some complicated anatomy and there is some pretty important stuff in the area so it’s smart to play it safe even if you are a super tough individual that hasn’t seen a doctor since your mum gave birth to you.


Outside of these, what I usually see and hear about is people finding it harder and harder to turn the neck, or after training they can’t turn your neck or feel like something is pinching. Maybe you can’t quite pick what happened but after a roll your neck doesn’t feel right. If this sounds familiar, then the good news is that it’s unlikely you are dealing with any serious damage, the downside though is that if you keep training without looking after your neck, chances are it will gradually feel worse over time. So what can you do about this? I have a few tips.


The first thing is regardless of the way your school warms up, drills or spars you need to ensure that your neck can handle the movements and stresses that most forms of grappling will place on it. It probably sounds like common sense but if you haven’t done training like this before then you are asking a lot more of your neck than you have in the past.


Think about what the neck has to go through with these things that happen at any Jiu Jitsu class each week:

  • Posting on your head to maintain position

  • Head control or collar tie where most of someone’s body weight can be put onto your head and neck

  • Tucking your chin to defend a choke

  • Using your head and neck to control your opponent

  • Getting stuck in a guillotine or rear naked choke and trying to turn and fight the choke.


The average person hasn’t had their neck tested in this way before jumping on the mat. So here are a few things that will help anyone with getting a healthier neck.


1. Get the neck moving. Flexibility and range of movement is both a big indicator of neck health but also important in being about to perform basic movements in Jiu Jitsu.


2. Get the upper back (thoracic spine) moving. Restriction in the upper back is a major contributing factor to developing problems with the neck. To over-simplify it, if your upper back can’t function correctly then you will be asking more of the neck to make up for it. Especially if you sit at a desk or a car all day. You will be surprised how much better your neck feels by freeing up your upper back.


3. Neck strength. Everyone that trains in some sort of grappling art would at some point seen or done exercise to strengthen the neck. You may have seen that video of Mike Tyson bridging onto his neck and walking his feet around. You might not do that exercise but start with something simple and it will help you cope with collar ties, apply head pressure and keep your chin tucked when defending a choke.


Give these a go and make them part of your routine to make your neck healthier and stronger.


In my next blogs look out for my favourite neck drills specific to Jiu Jitsu and also a few specific things to try if you have a chronic stiff and sore neck from training. Happy rolling!

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