Long hours bent over your desk, bad posture, and stress can cause a stiff neck. But adopting the right posture, a few neck exercises, and some yoga might be all you need to strengthen neck muscles, increase your flexibility, and stop that pain in its tracks. So don’t neglect your neck as you go about the day – your hardworking neck certainly deserves some TLC.
We all love the idea of going through life with our heads held high. But ever given a thought to your hardworking neck which literally does this for you? Your neck does not only support your head, though. A complex and sensitive mechanism, it protects the spinal cord too.
And there is more – between the bones in your neck are discs of cartilage (intervertebral discs) with nerves branching out from the spinal cord at the level of each disc. Sensations like pain and touch travel along these nerves to the brain.1
Bad posture, long hours in front of the computer, and stress can translate to a pain in the neck. A stiff neck once in a while is usually nothing to worry about. However, chronic neglect of your neck can lead to pain which can disrupt your day to day life.
In some rare cases, neck pain is caused by damage to the spinal cord, vertebrae, or nerves. Cancer and meningitis can be a reason too. Which is why you should see a doctor if the pain keeps getting worse, does not let up in a week or so, or is accompanied by other symptoms like tingling in your arms and legs.2
In all other cases, a handful of healthy habits can help you take care of your neck and ensure you do not get into trouble in the first place.
Adopt The Right Posture
Whether you are standing or working on your laptop, the right posture can reduce strain on your neck as well as your back.
Here is what you should do to give your body all the help it needs:
- While standing try to keep your body aligned. Maintain the natural curve of your spine, keep your neck straight, your shoulders parallel to your hips, and balance your weight on both your feet evenly.
- While sitting adjust your chair so that your lower back is supported, and your knees are a little lower than your hips. And if you are working on your computer, make sure that the monitor is directly in front of you, with the top of the screen at eye level. If the screen is not at a comfortable level you would have to bend your neck and, consequently, strain it.3
- If you are on the phone a lot, get a headset or hold the phone in your hand. Cradling the phone between your shoulder and ear is a bad idea that can strain the muscles of your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
- Take regular breaks from any activity where your neck is being held in the same position for a long time.
Pay attention to these things so your neck gets proper support while you sleep and to avoid straining it:
- Try not to sleep on your stomach as this could mean that your neck is positioned awkwardly. Keep your head aligned with your body if you sleep on your side. A pillow positioned correctly can help keep your head from bending toward your chest.
- Ensure that your mattress is firm enough. A mattress that’s too soft could bend your neck while you sleep.
- Do not use too many pillows. This will elevate your head and neck and could hurt it. Ideally, your body and head should be level while you sleep.4
Do Your Neck Exercises
Your neck works really hard. The muscles at its back are always tensed so that the head is upright. And when you are stressed, you tense these muscles even more, leading to neck pain. Exercise is an important way to ease pain and stiffness.
It can also build up muscle strength and improve flexibility. In fact, even if you have got neck pain you should not rest too long. Keep moving your neck because lack of movement can make your muscles weak, increasing your chances of straining them again.
Simple neck exercises can make your neck muscles stronger and give you a greater range of movement. For instance, the neck stretch and tilt can easily be incorporated into your daily routine.
The Neck Stretch
- Push your chin forward, keeping the rest of your body straight so that your neck is stretched.
- Now gently tense the muscles in your neck and hold this position for about 5 seconds.
- Bring your head back to the center and then tilt it back raising your chin.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds. Repeat the exercise 5 times.
The Neck Tilt
- Bring your neck down so your chin rests on your chest.
- Tense the neck muscles gently and hold the position for 5 seconds.
- Bring your head back to the center and repeat the exercise 5 times.
The neck tilt can also be done sideways where you tilt your head toward your shoulders.5
Yoga incorporates breathing techniques (pranayama), physical postures (asanas), and meditation (dhyana). That is a triple decker which can not only ease physical strain, but also calm your mind, helping you deal with stress that could be causing a pain in your neck.
Yoga can also make you more attuned to the position of your joints and muscle tone. This increased body awareness could help you recognize muscle tension and change poor posture in daily life.6
Get A Neck Massage
There is nothing as relaxing as a massage if you have got a stiff neck. Regular neck and shoulder massages can also reduce neck tension and improve your blood circulation.
For that extra punch, check out the shiatsu massage. The application of pressure to acupuncture points as well as the stretching and massaging techniques involved can be helpful for neck pain. A skilled practitioner will use soft tissue manipulation to improve blood circulation and reduce muscle pain and tension as well as stimulate nerves to relieve pain.7
An Ayurvedic oil massage (snehana) also spells good news for your neck. It not only has the power to relieve chronic aches and pains, but can rejuvenate you as well. An Ayurvedic practitioner will select the appropriate medicated oil for you based on your body constitution.8
References [ + ]
|1, 5.||↑||Neck pain exercises, The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.|
|2.||↑||Neck pain, Healthdirect Australia.|
|3.||↑||How to sit correctly, National Health Service.|
|4.||↑||Neck pain and stiff neck, National Health Service.|
|6.||↑||Cramer, Holger, Romy Lauche, Heidemarie Haller, Jost Langhorst, Gustav Dobos, and Bettina Berger. ““I’m more in balance”: a qualitative study of yoga for patients with chronic neck pain.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 19, no. 6 (2013): 536-542.|
|7.||↑||Ernst, Edzard, and Kate Boddy. Complementary therapies for pain management: an evidence-based approach. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2007.|
|8.||↑||Podder, Tanushree. The magic of massage. V&S Publishers, 2011.|