Relieving Neck Pain During and After Handstand Push Ups
Kipping handstand pushups (HSPU): incredibly fast and efficient, but not always incredibly comfortable. If you’re anything like me and are able to perform tons of kipping HSPU, but significantly fewer than tons of strict HSPU, you might be experiencing some neck pain during the WODs that pop up every month or so with high volume HSPU, often combined with other shoulder toasting movements. Unfortunately for me, that pain feels like a searing needle radiating into my shoulder blade, but it can manifest itself as pain shooting into your arm, numbness and tingling into your hand, or just a burning sensation in your neck.
Why does this happen?
While the strict handstand pushup is completed nearly entirely by the actions of your chest, shoulder, and supporting upper back musculature, a kipping HSPU adds in a dynamic upward force from your hips and legs. The leg drive works because you have a hard surface, (the ground) to push against. In the HSPU, your contact points with the ground are your two hands and your head. If you’re using the kip to compensate for muscular strength, some of the force goes through your shoulders, but the remainder of that force goes through your head and neck in order to create powerful upward movement. The result is sometimes compression of the small bones of your neck, and consequently, compression of the nerves that exit the spine on their way to your arms. This is what causes that sensation of numbness/tingling, or pain that radiates down your arm.
What can I do about it?
The first and easiest solution is to modify your neck positioning during the HSPU so that the nerves have a little bit more space. You can do this by making sure you keep your chin tucked back toward your throat (double chin style) whenever you have weight through your head.
Tucked vs. untucked chin.
The more effective and longer term answer is to strengthen your shoulder/chest musculature so that they can handle more force and thus reduce the load through your neck. Below are some drills for you to work on your HSPU strength.
Pike box handstand pushup.
Wall facing handstand pushup.
Banded handstand pushup.
However, sometimes you’ll need a temporary solution to mitigate the pain while you’re building your strength. Many people benefit from massage or from having a friend gently pull on the base of your head which simulates some gentle cervical traction, but we’ve got an additional solution for you try.
Gentle cervical traction.
Nerve flossing, or nerve gliding is a way to relieve burning/tingling/numbness, and pain by desensitizing the nerves to movement. It helps the nerves glide better through your musculature and acts as a massage for your nervous system!
Depending on where your pain is, you can try different nerve flossing techniques to provide some relief. Try out the flosses below for 20 reps twice a day and feel your pain, numbness, tingling, or discomfort disappear!
Pain in your palm, thumb, and index finger? This video will cover that pain as well as pain in your pinky and ring finger, and lastly, pain in the back of your hand. Try these out for pain relief!
Pain in your neck, shoulder, or upper arm(s)? Try all of these and see which one feels the best.
TLDR and Bottom Line: Kipping HSPU can result in compression of the nerves in the neck resulting in pain, numbness, or tingling. Strengthening, positioning modifications, and nerve flossing can all help alleviate these symptoms so you can perform at your best!
As always, I hope this helps! If you have any questions or would like to read about certain topics, send us an email at TeamSP@SportsPerformancePT.com.
-Dr. Marissa Rescott, PT, DPT, CF-L1
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