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Five reasons why aerialists and polers end up with neck pain

It’s common for aerialists and polers to complain about neck pain. It can range from stiffness in the back of the neck, to limited range of motion to getting headaches after class. Many of my past posts address back issues that are related to neck issues, but I haven't isolated the neck so here we go. First off, the body is a system and if one part of the system breaks down other parts of the system are affected by the change. The body works cohesively and often pain in one area is actually related to something going on somewhere else.

The deal with neck pain is that you likely have some muscular imbalances that are causing the problem.

I can help you identify what might be causing the issue and in the next post in this series I’ll give you some stretches. I have written many, many, many posts on strengthening the imbalanced muscle groups and I will provide those links as well. The best option if you are experiencing severe neck pain is to see a medical professional and get a professional opinion on the issue. Seeing a physical therapist can help with treatment and visiting a massage therapists can also help relieve the pain.

How aerial-related neck pain often happens

Overdeveloped lats and pecs

Any time you do an inversion or lift in aerial arts you are engaging a myriad of muscles in the chest and upper back as the primary movers. There are of course other muscles such as the abdominals, bicep and tricep and often for cirque, aerial and pole we are creating lovely lines so many stabilizer muscles are working too, hence the full body workout reputation that aerial has gained.

Even with amazing form, we often end up overusing the lats and pecs and underusing the rhomboids, traps (especially upper traps) and smaller shoulder girdle muscles. When the big muscles (pecs and lats) get stronger and bigger they often get tighter and more restricted. This restriction in movement can end up pulling on the less developed muscle groups, and for the neck this is often the levator scapulae and sometimes the upper traps. The less developed muscles can’t win the battle against the stronger and bigger muscles and imbalance in the system is created.

The truth bomb here is that larger muscles are larger and in general they will always be stronger. Our goal as aerialists is to figure out the imbalance issues in our bodies and use corrective exercises to train the weaker muscles and stretch the bigger muscles so that the system goes back to happy homeostasis.

Overusing the upper traps

One of the major culprits beyond overdeveloped lats and pecs is the upper traps. The upper traps have the job of lifting or elevating the shoulder, (yes, other muscles help out too) but in general we use the upper traps for this elevation. In theory, with good engagement and form we are not really supposed to be using the upper traps that much in aerial. However, any time you lift your arms over your head the upper traps are naturally going to fire as it is their job. However, it’s possible to be overusing them or engaging them incorrectly. What we want to look at is if we are possibly engaging the upper traps too much in day-to-day aerial and may need to fix our shoulder engagement. We may also be over training which can over work muscles and then we end up recruiting stabilizers like the upper traps and through the balance of the system off. The other issue can be holding daily stress in the upper traps, but we’ll get to that.