It’s about that time of year. The time when we get lots of questions about how to get rid of neck pain. Maybe it’s all the online shopping?
Here is what we recommend to let the healing begin.
As always, anytime you have pain you want to calm things down.
First step is to decrease the inflammation.
Next CHECK IN on these 3 areas:
Hip Check In- stiff muscles or tightness causing pain in your neck can be a sign that you’ve got some underlying weakness in your core and postural muscles.
Why check your hips when you’ve got neck pain? All movement begins at the hips which are the base of your core. Your hips don’t lie. Imbalances in strength and mobility of your hips will cause issues all throughout the body.
Wait what? Yes it's true and because everything’s connected to everything through your fascia (connective tissue). If your hips are tight and pelvic floor muscles are weak, then your neck may be working overtime to hold you up against gravity.
Posture Check In- it’s important to check that you aren’t straining your neck with your positioning in bed and wherever you sit for long periods (i.e. office chair, sofa, car seat).
Bed Tips: How many pillows do you sleep with? You want to find just the right amount of support particularly in your neck area so that you aren’t too flexed or too flat. You’ll need to take into consideration if you sleep on your back, side or belly. They make pillows for all types of sleepers now. Find one that fits you just right.
If your neck is flared up, you might need some extra support in the curve of your neck just below the base of your skull. You can roll up a towel and place it in the bottom of your pillowcase for some extra support.
If you’re a belly sleeper, a good goal would be to try and become a side sleeper. You could even get a body pillow and sleep halfway between your side and belly sleeping for less stress on your neck.
Chair Tips: ideally you want to sit in a position with good low back support that encourages you to sit with your shoulders over your hips and head in line with your spine. Try to have your elbows supported to take tension out of your shoulders and put any screen at eye level to avoid slumping over and flexing your neck too much. Standing desks work for some folks also to break up their sitting time.
It’s impossible to have perfect posture all day long but you can become more mindful of how you sit and take frequent movement breaks to reset your posture and help your tissue stay hydrated throughout the day.
Stress Check In- most of us are aware that when we are stressed, we hold tension in our necks. Taking simple relaxation breaks from 3 reps to 3 minutes throughout the day will help you calm your nervous system and help you feel more ease each day.
Now that you’ve checked in, which of these areas needs some attention? Keep that in mind as you work on the next step: moving without pain.
NECK BASIC MOBILITY WORK
Here are a few gentle movements to help relieve neck tension or pain.
Relaxing your face- There are 2 simple moves that can help you relax your face and put less tension on your neck. Smiling and putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth while you breathe. I know it seems too simple but try it while you are working on the computer or working out to see if it helps keep tension out of your neck.
Relaxing your shoulders- Good form is important not only in sitting but when you are lifting weights or doing arm movements during Pilates or Yoga exercises. Check in and make sure your shoulders are not pulled up toward your ears (elevated) when you are sitting, cooking, driving, working out, talking on the phone. Instead keep your shoulder blades pulled down toward your hips and think arm pits to hips as you move and go through your day.
Chin Tuck Exercise- Sit up tall, shoulders over hips, arm pits to hips and gently move your chin back toward your spine like you’re making a double chin. Think about lengthening the back of your neck. Repeat 10 times as long as this doesn’t increase your pain. Rule of thumb: if a movement makes your pain worse, don’t do it or modify it.
Nose Circles Exercise- Sit up tall with good posture and move your nose in a circle like you are drawing a circle the size of an orange. Repeat 5-10 times then reverse directions and repeat circles 5-10 more times.
Modifications: If you’re super flared-up, you might want to do the Chin Tucks and Nose Circles laying on your back with a supportive pillow or towel roll. Bend your knees with feet flat on floor to take even more tension off your spine. You can do these several times a day especially at the end of your day. When someone has a recent injury, you typically have them do 10 reps every hour to help calm the area and get out of the pain cycle.
Remember we want to calm the body when it’s in pain.
As things calm down and you’re able to move better without pain, the next step is to turn on your postural muscles with stability exercises.
POSTURE WORK FOR NECK PAIN
Even though you are dealing with a neck issue, you want to start with stability exercises aimed at strengthening your hips and pelvic floor muscles to help improve your posture and take tension off your neck. You can literally reshape your body with a few minutes of daily fascial body work.
We show you how to improve the mobility and stability of your hips and spine using fascial stretching, massage and stability work in our online program, HIP Camp™: Stretch & Rest Care Tools To Reshape Your Body. Learn more here.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP WITH PAIN
If you have sharp or constant pain or start to lose sensation or control of any muscles, it’s time to call your doctor. Seek medical help immediately when you have an acute (new) injury.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a herniated disc or have numbness/tingling into your arm, you will need a health care professional to guide you with your recovery. You’ll want to find someone that has strong manual therapy skills and training with myofascial tools like cupping, kinesiotaping or dry needling. You may benefit from traction techniques also. Your provider should also give you a home exercise program to do between sessions.
Don’t forget you are still fragile as you are healing. Go slow as you get back to normal activities even when you start to feel better or have less pain.
P.S. Ho. Ho. Ho. It’s time to Roll. Our favorite foam roller is 30% off this month. It’s like having a PT, Chiro, Massage Therapist in one and the closest we can get to sending our hands home with you. You can find it here*.
In our online program, HIP Camp™, we show you how to use the foam roller & more to help you reshape your body for better energy, mobility and posture. Learn more here.
For more stress management tips, download this Daily Planner to help you add 1-3 minute rest & relaxation breaks into your day.
DIY Self Care Book Resource for Neck Pain: McKenzie Method- Treat Your Own Neck. Available in English and Spanish. You can find it on Amazon or here.
For more for tips on having good form during workouts, refer to this Fit Blog.
For suggestions on how to build your rehab team, refer to this Fit Blog.
*denotes affiliate link
Mollie Miller, PT