Head and neck pain can come from a multitude of factors: poor posture, slipped or bulged disc, trauma, muscle tension, muscle weakness, muscle imbalances and/or injury. These pains are a growing epidemic due to our modern sedentary lifestyle (i.e. seated at desks, driving cars, reading books, texting, playing video games, watching TV). Our bodies adapt to our everyday movements to make it easier for us to function; however, in time, these adaptations come at a cost. It could be one day, a week, a year or longer until you notice serious concerns in your body due to adaptation.
There are many muscles that help with head and neck movements; but, my focus is to discuss the longus capitis or LC (translated as the long muscle of the head). The longus capitis is a deep flexor muscle in the neck whose job is to laterally flex, rotate, and flex the head and neck. In addition, the LC helps to reduce the lordotic curve of the cervical vertebrae. Most significantly it is the initiator in head and neck flexion. In healthy individuals head and neck flexion is initiated with the LC, followed by the longus colli, anterior scalenes, and then the sternocleidomastoid (SCM).
Unfortunately today, many people reverse this sequencing of head and neck flexion; consequently leading to chronic neck extension. To the lay person this means that their chin is sticking out and not tucked in. In these people the LC muscles have become inactive and weak overtime and cannot properly function. The inactivity of the LC leads to an overactivity of the SCM. When the SCM is overworked it becomes fatigued quicker eventually leading to chronic forward head posture (head/neck extension). This can escalate to chronic headaches, temporomandibular disorders (TMD), chronic back neck/back pain, and even lordosis in the cervical spine.
Do you have this problem? A simple test can give you the answer: Head raise test. Please don’t cheat! You need a partner to watch your movement. Lay down supine (facing up) on the ground. Now, raise your head off the ground. What happened? If the chin instantly rose to the ceiling to lift your head up you have weak LC muscles. If your chin stayed tucked in, then you engaged your LC and it is working and active. If you did not fare well on this test you need to strengthen your LC by doing this chin-tucking exercise: Tuck your chin in while attempting to raise your head toward the ceiling (like someone is pulling on your hair straight up). Do this for 5 seconds, then completely relax. Repeat this 8-10 times from 1 to 3 times a day to strengthen your LC.
The next time a neck pain or headache creeps up perhaps you can chin-in to your health!
Learn more about Yoga Tune Up Neck Pain Solutions.
Read our “How to massage away chronic neck pain” article.
Watch our neck pain relief video on YouTube.
Thank you for this information. I find that as I get older and now have to wear trifocals my tendency to “turtle” my neck is even worse (and it’s always been a problem). I am resolved to practice this exercise every day and to remember I have a longus colli.
While doing some therapy with the tune-up ball, my SCM muscles felt tighter and tighter by the second. This article brought light to understand the role of the anterior neck muscles in contributing to my headaches and TMJ problems. This will help guide myself and my students to build awareness, deepen the practice of alignment and minimize pain and injuries. Thank you.
The longus capitis and related muscles are sometimes called the “core” of the neck. By the time I found out about them, my scalenes were so buff that they were pulling my top ribs out of place. Thank you for getting this information out there so people can catch this dysfunctional movement pattern early!
I love your simple and easy test to check in with the LC muscles – It becomes so obvious within your test that the practitioner doesn’t need a ‘trained professional’ to test theirs. I, like many above, failed this little assessment and have already become much more aware of my chin-gutting tendencies. Thank you for sharing the knowledge on how to correct this, and how to better identify it. I see teachers time and time again asking students to tuck their chin without really dissecting for them what muscles need to activate and how to get it done.
I epically failed the test and I didn’t even need someone be a witness to it. I am all to aware that my neck muscles are weak and have been told that some actually have turned “off” due to trauma. As a side note, I would love to know what I know now and ask the doctors that informed me of this exactly what they meant and which muscles they were. But back to the post, it was super informative and gave me the first true strengthening technique that I think will help me reduce the feelings that my head is too heavy for my body. Awesome and thank you!
I love your post. I am a yoga teacher in Luxembourg and would love to connect. Thanks MARI Yoga
eeek, it’s painful for me to watch people lead with their chin. Recently I had noted a yoga student who does not seem to hear the suggestion of drawing her chin in. This is a clear and concise strengthening exercise for the Longus Capitis because it is do-able. Not even one minute 3 times a day! I look forward to sharing it with students. Thank you.
Didn’t realise I was a chin jutter either until recently! Thought my posture was decent until I took to my neck and head with the therapy balls and found the whole thing shockingly intense. Given I spend very little time sitting or at a computer I was curious as to why and thought it might be from sporting activities so I asked a physical therapist friend to watch me in action. Interestingly her observation was that there was a problem of dysfunctional movement patterning (ofcourse) but that she was less concerned about movement activities and more concerned with how I conversed with people… turns out being a 5ft female I do something exceptionally strange with my head, neck and eyeballs (!) to sit my head in what seemed like an easy position for talking to people taller than I. Here I thought being a movement teacher allowed to sidestep those patterns of movement I had relegated to desk workers!
I also lost! Thanks for enlightening me on why I am a chin out person. It’s one thing to just tell someone to tuck their chin, but giving them the knowledge and a sneaky little test, you really have empowered everyone to take control of their bodies (head included) through intelligent empowerment!
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Fantastic post! Earlier this year I went through Corrective Chiropractic Care to address chronic neck pain, recurring torticollis and TMJ. The head raises you detailed were one of the many exercises I did as part of the program. Your article has brought to light the muscle targeted in the exercise (longus capitis) and has inspired me to get back on the floor and regularly get to those head raises – chin in! Thanks!
I too failed the test! I had my husband watch me, after the test he continued to notice how I stick my chin out like a chicken. So I’m now going for the “double chin” effect (bringing my chin in a lot so my skin overlaps). Also combining it with the excersises you suggested, thanks!!
Thank you for this article Kristin! I love your simple test to determine whether you have weak LC muscles – I failed the test miserably! I’ve been dealing with neck and shoulder pain for the last few years and have only recently become aware of the fact that I’ve been going through many of my daily activities (driving, working on the computer, watching tv) with my shoulders hunched and a forward head carriage. To combat this, I’ve been tying a long strap behind my back and crisscrossing it over my trapezius muscles, then looping it forward and tying it tightly in a bow at my sternum while doing daily tasks like computer work. This instantly helps my posture by depressing and externally rotating my shoulders. It also allows me to become much more aware of the position of my chin. I make sure to keep my ears stacked directly on top of my shoulders to keep my chin from protruding forward.
I am so thankful to have read this post! Firstly, it’s very educational. Secondly I have had pain in my neck for a very long time, and was told many times that I have to curve in my neck. Perhaps….but after reading your post and doing the test, I now realize I need to do the exercise. This is so helpful!
At the tech company I work at, frozen or stiff neck is one of the most common complaints I get from students – and usually they assume it is from one night of sleeping funny. This information and these exercises will be very helpful in helping them understand a potential underlying cause.
Thank you for this wonderfuly simple yet effective exercise. As a massage therapist, I am constantly self massaging myself and notice I have significant tightness in my SCM. I have also suffered from neck pain that originates from the occipital ridge. My guess is this very muscles is over stretched due to a forward chin and could very well be the root cause of my discomfort. I have never felt close to knowing why this may be and I think you have figured it out. Much gratitude for the post. Well done.
Kristin thie is a very valid and relevant article. I am constantly noticing clients flexing their neck when it is unecessary. Every time that I draw attention to this they correct their form in a given exercise. However, next time we meet they are using unecessary neck flexion again. It is also important to draw attention to why clients may have pain in their neck and a lot of them are scared to use an area that hurts creating more damage in the long run. I will try this exercise to encourage my clients to decrease the build up of connective tissue that will eventually turn into scar tissue. Thanks for the tip.
Wonderful post this is so true and I am going to try the kids at school that come to the nurses office. Unfortunately so many children are also developing weak LC muscles due video games, tv, computers, texting etc. I am guilty of head/neck extension even on my bike and am suffering from a chronic injury flaring up as we speak due to improper alignments. It would be interesting to take a walk in a large corporation and see the percentage of people who were in neck extension vs neck flexion. I love the fact that YTU is so practical in applying this to everyday life and imbalances. I am looking forward to learning more. Ok gotta get off this computer too much neck extension 🙂
I won! Just kidding – but I really appreciated that you put in a quick simple test, to see where along the LC strength spectrum I stand. It’s so important to know our muscles strengths and “weaknesses.” They help shed light as to what we can do to work certain muscle and “fix” things such as poor posture and neck pains (ie. this head test!). How can you fix something when you don’t know it’s “broken”? Thanks!
Great article! Could this be devolution where selection will favor a spinal and cranial structure which is more weight bearing?
interesting article, I never actually realized you were performing 2 actions when flexing the neck. I’m going to try this first chance I get.
Anything is possible in regards to injuring muscles. So yes you could injure your LC in headstand. But it’s unlikely. Most LC injuries come from MVA’s (motor vehicle accidents) or whiplash. However if your LC is weak or super tight and you are doing headstand your jaw muscles and superficial neck muscles will probably be tight! This is not good because you are suppose to relax the jaw muscles and superficial neck muscles while in headstand.
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Thanks for the info. Could you injure the longus capitis in headstand? Thanks!
Thanks for the great article Kristin i’ve suffered from a persistent neck pain and found this article! My LC is weak as a result of chronic neck extensions. I keep in mind to tuck my chin to activate LC always. Also doing an exercise! hopefully to have my LC back to work properly.
Excellent! I have to keep reminding myself of this, bringing awareness to my neck tension, and assist students with this as well. I did enjoy using the yoga balls to relueve the tightness. The test will be helpful for my students.
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kristin, thanks for bringing attention to this! most who have this tendency are totally unaware that this is cauing them pain. My boyfriend was a chin jutter with chronic neck pain and just by bringing it to his attention and body awareness, he has seen a decrease in pain. Thanks for the test as well, now I have a way to relay this to my students!!
Great article Kristin! I have a close friend who has been having headaches with some pain in the trapezius because of exactly what you described in the article, the lessening of the natural curve in the cervical spine due to chronic chin forward head position. I’ll be sure to have them try the chin-tucking exercise you mentioned to help restore the natural curve and hopefully alleviate any headaches or neck pain. Thanks again for a great article
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Very cool! Love the test and exercise. I see so many people complain of headaches who are chin-jutters and the beginnings of widow’s hump in relatively young men who spend a lot of time at their desks. Thanks!
Thank you Kristin. i have a few students who suffer from neck issues and always ask for neck exercises. I will definitely try the test.
I find that using therapy ball on the back of the head (occipital insertion of superior fibers of trapezius) also helps.
Kristin, Very well written, I love you’re solution, very simple and strengthening. I have struggled with this for years and was always provided stretching exercises from health professionals not strengthening. I also didn’t make the connection to the temporomandibular pain that I have, I have been using the YTU balls to massage this area, but it is the worst pain I have ever experienced. I think coupling this with consistent ball work will be a great solution.
Thanks for the comment. When people are searching they are either 1) looking for information “chiropractic versus back surgery” or 2) looking for a solution “headache treatment”. When you sit down to write, have a specific question or solution in mind and make sure to use the words that your patients would use.
Excellent. I’m going to try this today at the studio.:)
Yes! For every inch of Forward Head Posture (neck flexion), it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds! (Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3). It’s an incredible statistic. Everyone needs to be more cognizant of this issue because prolonged neck flexion can also progress into other dis-eases of the body (degenerative change in the spine, arthritis, etc). Please take care of your necks everyone. Do some YTU exercises shown on Jill Miller’s DVDs 🙂
Awesome article! Within the year I have realized I am a culprit to this problem, which can add 10 pounds to the weight of your head. This is working hard not smart. Thanks for the exercises:)