What a Pain in the Neck!

Neck pain and stiffness are common in our society. Sadly, not even old yogis like me are exempt from this persistent malady. The neck is really an amazing body part. This short structure connects the torso to the head and holds the weight of the world. Ok, really it just holds up our world, aka the head, which weighs roughly the same as a bowling ball. It also houses nerves that control the neck, eyes, diaphragm, arms, and hands. This means that tension in the neck can lead to headaches, sinus problems, vision problems, fatigue, and numbness in arms, hands, and fingers. Yes, the neck has really got our backs, and yet we fail to attend to its needs.

So how do things go so terribly, terribly wrong with the neck? Much of the tension we feel is due to our lifestyles. Our body is designed for the parts of the spine to stack in perfect alignment. Our ideal alignment features the ears over the shoulders, shoulders over the hips, and hips over ankles. When we sit in front of our computers or watch TV this is not happening. Often, we lean forward towards the computer, then maybe tilt our heads upward and/or forward to see the monitor. Of course, our posture does not improve when we relax on the couch to binge watch our favorite shows. Then we might slump in our seats, or lay out on the couch with our necks in an uncomfortable and unnatural position. Sometimes even “a good night’s sleep” is not so good for our necks.

If you’re experiencing problems that may stem from neck tension, it’s time to take action. A trip to the doctor may rule out any serious problems. If that’s the case, you can try the following ideas to help reduce any pain, tension, headaches, etc. For more tips on spinal health, subscribe to my newsletter here.

First, try changing your pillow. If you start the day with a headache or neck pain, the solution may be as simple as buying a new pillow. Look for one that offers support, but has enough give to avoid placing the neck at an angle. If a pillow is too firm , it puts the neck in misalignment…..too soft and it does not offer support.

Next, consider your posture as you go about your day. Ask yourself, “Where are my ears?” If the answer is, “My ears are in front of my shoulders,” then it’s time to realign. See my post Don’t Wear Your Shoulders As Earrings for more tips on posture. Now incorporate movement and neck stretches into your day. Try the following:

  • Start with your gaze forward, then move your head to the right. Pause briefly, then come back to center. Do this 10 times on the right, then repeat on the left.
  • Next, look to the right again, and as you exhale allow the chin to come down in a half circle to the chest. Inhale, as you continue this half circle bringing head to gaze to the left. Exhale and repeat towards the right. Do this 10 times. You can also do full neck circles if you do not feel discomfort or pain with them. Many yoga classes are helpful for releasing tension as well. To sign up for my “Unwind the Spine” class on Fridays at 4:30 MT, click here.
  • Now work on scapular movement. With your arms by your sides (elbows bent), or in your lap, squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold for a breath and release. Repeat 10 times.
  • To stretch your neck, sit up tall on a chair and place your right hand behind your low back, near the sacrum. Let the left ear drop towards the left shoulder. Hold and breathe for 5-6 breaths. Repeat 2-3 times, then switch sides.
  • To strengthen the deep muscles in the neck, lie on your back and gently press the back of your neck down to the surface beneath you. Your chin will slightly tuck. Hold for a breath, release and repeat 10-20 times.

Being mindful about taking care of your neck can go a long way towards releasing tension and alleviating pain. For more ideas on neck stretches or for Functional Yoga Coaching or classes feel free to contact me.