I first of all want to declare that I love squats... the 'air squat', overhead squat, front squat and the back squat. I think they are awesome and solve more problems than they cause.
However, I see normal, everyday people in my practice who love squats too. But the way we are taught to squat can actually make your neck pain worse.
Here is a video I made of a friend doing just 5 squats for me - I am using Coach's Eye on the iPhone to draw the back angle and the face angle to show how the neck angle changes during a squat.
So as you can see, Fiona is extending her neck during a squat simply because she focuses on a spot on the wall.
The green lines represent her back angles at standing and at the bottom of the squat. Fiona has what I would consider a very common looking squat. Not ideal but not bad - just very common.
The blue lines represent her facial angle which i am using to represent her neck angle.
Ideally, the green and blue lines should make the same patterns but you can see that the facial angles are nearly parallel meaning that the face hasn't moved very much during the squat. Because her back has moved, it means that her neck must have extended.
If you have neck pain involving the facet joints or any pinched or irritated nerves, and you get pain on extension of the neck, then you can see why you have to see what your squats look like.
When I showed Fiona the video, she had no idea she was moving her head so much. She had even tried to keep her head still knowing what I was looking for!
The easiest way to help fix this is to pretend you have a neck brace on. Your chin will sit at the same distance from your collar bones and will thus maintain the correct relationship during the squat. This will minimise the neck extension and allow you to squat without pain.
As you improve, we can slowly train you to extend your neck if that is what you want to do but it can be a slow process.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject - leave a comment or question below!