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Free safety lesson! Is it safe to roll your head in a full circle?

Paul Ingraham ARCHIVEDMicroblog posts are archived and rarely updated. In contrast, most long-form articles on PainScience.com are updated regularly over the years.

So I was doing my daily mobilizations by the seaside, enjoying a winter sunset, and an elderly Chinese man walked by me. Then he turned, and said:

Excuse me, but I’m concerned that you are hurting your neck doing that. May I show you how to do it properly?

How extraordinary! What was I doing that was so hazardous that a total stranger would offer me free safety advice?

I was rolling my head in a full circle. Pretty alarming stuff.

Near English Bay, downtown Vancouver, Canada … scene of the free advice.

Many people believe that this is a problem, probably because it can be a bit crunchy (noisy). I’ve heard many warnings about it in exercise classes of all kinds over the years. The usually under-explained and vague rationale for avoiding rotation the neck is the idea that this is somehow unusually stressful for the neck joints. Supposedly it’s safer to stick to the cardinal planes of movement, or at least avoiding full extension.

I cannot think of any reason why: as long as it’s reasonably comfortable, there’s no problem. The cervical spine is generally just as well-built for compound movement as a ball-and-socket joint. I prefer to get the benefits of thoroughly moving my neck, and to avoid worrying about extremely trivial biomechanical hazards.

I politely refused the assistance. He stared at me like I was a bit nuts to refuse a safety lesson, and moved on. An odd incident.

I’ve updated my neck pain book with this little story, and a bit more detail.

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