I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not going to start off with a “pain in the neck” joke.
The truth is, belayer’s neck is no laughing matter. It’s actually potentially dangerous if you try to ignore it.
Think about it. What’s your natural reaction to neck strain? To tilt your neck in the opposite direction.
The whole point of looking up at the climber while belaying is so that you can catch them when they fall. Otherwise you’d get caught off-guard, which can only end badly.
Look at the photo above. That’s the natural reaction to belayer’s neck, and it’s exactly what you’ll end up doing every few moments if you try to push through it.
The key to solving belayer’s neck is to simply prevent it from happening in the first place.
There’s a few ways you can do that, and they’re all pretty simple so I’m going to cover all of them in this post.
Let’s get right to it then.
This is by far the easiest way to prevent belayer’s neck.
After all, if looking upwards is causing neck pain, then the simplest solution is to… not look upwards.
Of course, the only way to not look upwards while still keeping watch on the climber you’re belaying is to use belaying glasses.
The ones in that picture above are the ever-popular Y&Y Plasfun. I wrote all about belaying glasses, how they work, and what makes the good ones special in this post here. If you don’t care about all that and you just want to know which are the best ones to get, then you can just jump straight to that part if you click here.
2. Change Your Neck Position Regularly
The absolute worst thing you can do is keep your neck stretched out in one extreme position for a long period of time.
The easiest thing you can do is face your body to one side or the other and lean away from where you’re looking. That way, you don’t have to twist your neck as much to look up.
Of course, don’t stay in this one position either. At the very least, keep your neck moving regularly so that you’re not stuck in one position.
3. Strengthen Your Deep Neck Flexors
This article by The Climbing Doctor is a great resource on how to do this. If you don’t want to use a theraband for those exercises then you can use any old scarf that’s long enough.
4. DON’T Bother With Acupuncture, Acupressure or Other “Alternative” Remedies
Some might call this controversial, but it really isn’t. “Alternative medicine” doesn’t work. If it did, it would be called “medicine.”
Here is an excellent article by Dr. Steven Novella and pharmacologist David Colquhoun that goes into great detail about why acupuncture and acupressure don’t work.
If you don’t have time to read it, then here’s the TL;DR:
What David and I have convincingly argued, in my opinion, is that after decades of research and more than 3000 trials, acupuncture researchers have failed to reject the null hypothesis, and any remaining possible specific effect from acupuncture is so tiny as to be clinically insignificant.
In layman’s terms, acupuncture does not work – for anything.
Also, before you rush off to a chiropractor, you should know that chiropractic isn’t science either.
Also, here is Dr. Steven Novella’s overview of chiropractic and the strange belief of “subluxation” that the vast majority of chiropractors follow.
Again, if you don’t have time to read it, then here’s a quote which sums it up:
In over a century, chiropractic research has produced no evidence to support the postulates of chiropractic theory and little evidence that chiropractic treatments provide objective benefits.
And then before you think, “Oh what harm can it do?” take a look at this:
Up to half of patients report short-term adverse effects from manipulation, such as increased local or radiating pain; and there is a rare but devastating complication of neck manipulation: it can injure the vertebrobasilar arteries and cause stroke, paralysis, and death.
Basically, a lot.
Besides, belayer’s neck will go away by itself after a week or so if you give your neck a rest.
Go to a real doctor instead if you’re having any persistent pain that doesn’t go away, and get yourself some belaying glasses if you want to continue belaying.
Your neck will thank you later.