Ever see that swan dive into forward fold with the chin leading the way? The head looks kind of like this all the way down:
Extension of the neck can be just fine if it’s done with extension of the thoracic spine (upper back). But when it’s done when the thoracic spine is in flexion (a rounded back, or a forward fold), you could be getting yourself into trouble. Especially if it’s a repeated practice. Like doing sun salutation forward folds continually with the head in extension or for that matter, spending a lot of time on cat-cow.
Cat-cow? That harmless little spinal warm up? How could that be a problem? Well, the thing is, if you do it every day and take your neck into extension while the upper back stays in flexion, you cultivate a maladaptive movement pattern that can lead you, perhaps years later, to serious neck trouble.
The easy way out of future neck issues is this – let your neck move with your upper back. Whenever you take your head back, make sure your shoulderblades are retracting (moving towards each other), your upper arms bones are externally rotating (turning outwards not inwards) and you feel a stretch in your chest. Feel your neck – does it feel crunchy or squished in the back – even in extension your neck should feel long and free.
Gary Kraftsow’s “uncat-cow” is a great alternative to cat-cow and promotes a better movement pattern.