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How To Crankproof Your Neck For Grappling

How To Crankproof Your Neck For Grappling

Guest post by Dr Kickass, Mike Piekarski, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Former MMA Fighter, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt. Follow him on instagram.

In brazilian jiu jitsu, a martial art where many of the offensive options involve chokes and strangulations, many practitioners suffer from neck pain and stiffness. What can you do to protect your neck?
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1️⃣Neck Strength: The muscles in the cervical spine have 2 jobs: ?️move your head for optimal sensory orientation ?️stabilize the head on your shoulders. Cervical isometric holds in multiple directions are excellent ways to initiate strengthening your neck (and also are great for reducing pain).

2️⃣Neck mobility: The spine as a whole works as a chain link: if one of the 24 segments (7 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar) lacks mobility than the segment above and/or below has to take up the slack. That hypermobile segment is the weakest link and likely the one that will get strained. Make sure each segment is mobile and you have a uniform curve when you bend your neck.

3️⃣Be smart and Tap! Often a choke may not be perfect and it ends up cranking the neck instead of putting your to sleep. Don’t have an ego. Tap today and train tomorrow. You may feel like a doofus to tap to a lower belt but you will feel like a complete jackass if you cannot train for 2 weeks.
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Other helpful suggestions
?Avoid inverting. Sure inverting is cool for sport jiu jitsu and opens up many offensive and defensive options but to have your entire body weight (maybe even your opponents as well) on a flexed cervical spine is a great way to injury your neck. The neck muscles were not designed to resist that type of load.

❗️When you have neck pain- train Gi > nogi. Personally I prefer to train nogi but many of the nogi choke options (guillotines, head/arm chokes etc…) tend to have a higher chance of cranking the neck compared to gi chokes. Since gi chokes have a higher success rate they tend to be the preferred method of attack and will reduce the risk of an improperly applied choke that ends up cranking your neck.

Jiu jitsu is a martial art where there is a high chance of having a neck injury because so many attacks target the neck. In my last post I discussed the factors that can help reduce the risk for neck injuries. One important factor is having adequate neck mobility. There are several factors that may limit optimal mobility: tissue extensibility (muscle, fascia etc…), Atlanto-occipital joint (C0-C1), Atlanto-axial joint (C1-C2), lower cervical segments (C3-C7) and thoracic segments.
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If vertebral segments have limited joint mobility than the segments above or below will be forced to compensate. This means they will take up the slack and be forced to move too much. These hypermobile joints are the areas at most risk for injury because they will move if someone is trying to force the neck in a position it should not be in. To reduce the risk for injury if you improve the mobility of those hypomobile segments then the other segments will not be at a higher risk of getting injured.
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Test for optimal cervical flexion motion: Touch your chin to your sternum. You should be able to reach your sternum without pain, compensation or excessive effort.
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Self-cervical spine mobilization (Sustained Natural Apophyseal Glides) to restore proper cervical motion to C3-C7. When your cervical spine flexes the facet joints open. This mobilization assists with this process. As you actively flex your neck forward you can put your fingers under the spinous process (bony knobs in the middle of your spine) and apply a firm pressure at a 45 degree angle (pressure towards your eye). After you perform 6-10 movements you progress down towards the next segment. Realistically you want to find the segments that feels “stuck” and focus your attention on them.
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Focus on pain-free motion. If a segment hurts with pressure start with the segment below then re-test the one above. Often the segment hurts or is tender because it is the hypermobile segment.
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Re-test to see if you have any improvements (Improved range and/or decreased pain)
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Following the mobilization you want to retrain your neck to be able to actively use the newly gained range.

Two muscles that are fairly easy to stretch are the upper trapezius and levator scapula.

1️⃣Upper trap stretch: side bend your neck away and bring your ear to your shoulder.
2️⃣Levator scap stretch: bring your head forward and rotate 45 degrees away.
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In both stretches make sure use your opposite hand is holding the bottom of the seat. This locks down the scapula to maximize the stretch at the neck.

❗️While I put my hand on my head my hand is a passive weight to help my neck relax and guide the neck into position. I am NOT pressuring or pulling my neck down.
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Tissues responds well to low intensity long duration holds. Hold for 30-60 seconds and perform 2-5x a day.
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After the stretch make sure to actively move your head in that direction 5-10 times after.

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