In grappling sports like wrestling, jiu-jitsu, or judo, you can expect to get your neck cranked on quite a bit. Opponents will often try to set up their techniques by pushing and pulling your neck and head in an attempt to control your body. This can lead to muscle pulls, strains, and sprains in your neck area. These injuries are commonly known as stiff neck.
For those of our readers who have never had stiff neck; it’s horrible. The range of motion in your neck becomes severely diminished, and your ability to apply any resistance in your neck is thwarted due to sharp, prickly pains. Like any other injury, stiff neck is definitely something you want to avoid.
Although there is no foolproof method to avoiding stiff neck, you can minimize your risks by performing a few simple stretches during your warmup.
1. Front Neck Bridges
This front neck bridge is commonly known as a tripod, because you’re only using your two feet and your head. Try turning on your head from side to side, back and forth, and at diagonal angles as well. This will stimulate your neck muscles and get your blood flowing, so you’re neck will be nice and warmed up before you start grappling. Try holding this position while twisting and turning on your head for twenty to thirty seconds.
2. Back Bridges
Try flipping over into a back bridge. The key to getting a good back bridge is to arch your back up as high as you possibly can. Your goal should be to touch your nose to the mat. If you feel comfortable enough, you can even extend your feet and go up on the tips of your toes to get a higher arch. After you’ve held this position for about twenty seconds, attempt to lean towards each side of your neck at forty-five degrees to stimulate the muscles on the sides. It helps to reach over to the side your leaning towards with your hands. Try holding each side for about fifteen seconds each.
3. Bridge Pose
The bridge targets the back of the neck. First, lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms fully extended across the floor with your palms down. Your legs should be just slightly more than shoulder width apart . Lift your hips of the floor without flexing your glutes. Roll your shoulders back and bring your hands under your pelvis while keeping them fully extended. Press your forearms against the mat and try to reach for your ankles. It’s important to keep your feet parallel pointed straight forward. Finally, try to tilt your chin away from your chest. Hold this position for thirty seconds while maintaining your breathing.
4. Behind the Back Neck Stretch
Stand with your feet no more than shoulder-width apart and reach both hands behind your back. Grab your left wrist with your right hand and straighten your left arm by gently pulling it away from yourself. Lower your right ear to your right shoulder while pulling on your left arm. It’s important not to lean your entire body over to the right when trying to touch your ear to your shoulder; keep your back perpendicular to the ground. Hold this for about thirty seconds, and then switch sides.
Although there are many other neck stretches, these are my favorite four. Doing these stretches before you start grappling as part of your warmup will loosen up your neck and help avoid straining it. Even so, it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid injuring your neck in a grappling sport, so you should always be prepared to deal with it.
If you think you’ve injured your neck during practice, the sooner you get ice on it, the better. Ice it for no more than twenty minutes at a time. Take a break from grappling while your neck is injured. Continuing to wrestle with stiff neck will only exacerbate the injury.