Out of all the places to get sore or stiff, your neck is arguably one of the worst! It hurts to look around and your posture looks worse than the Hunchback of Notre Dame on a bad day. In this article, I am going to explain why this happens & show you how to alleviate some of your neck stiffness using a combination of techniques from a scientific perspective.
In the vast majority of cases, neck pain is triggered by poor posture. That’s largely in part due to the amount of time we spend looking at screens which puts so much stress on your head and neck muscles. To put this into perspective, your head weighs approximately 10-12 pounds. With good body mechanics and posture, this weight is relatively easy to manage. But when you change the angle of your neck by tilting forward, this causes exponentially more stress on your muscles to keep your head up. In some cases, as much as a 6 fold increase!
To adjust for this, your neck muscles stretch to the required length and then stiffen to help secure the desired position long term. It is this that causes you to feel stuck and why it is so difficult to move your head around without some form of stiffness or pain. There is no instant fix for this, but there is something you can do alleviate some of the discomfort relatively quickly.
First, gently massage or loosen up the area. There are a number of different ways you can do this, but I find that the simplest and most effective way is by using your hands. Sit up tall and use your finger tips to gently rub the base of your skull and neck. Spending a few minutes doing this not only loosens up muscle, fascia & connective tissue but it also improves blood flow to the area which is key for the healing process. If you have a heating pad you could also put this on periodically to speed things up. Getting this done correctly will prepare you well for the next phase.
The next step is to practice shoulder girdle reset. Starting upright and relaxed, shrug your shoulders towards your ears, bring your shoulders back, and then forcefully bring them down. Don’t just relax at the end of the drill. Your shoulders should still feel engaged upon completion. This drill will not only help put you in the right position for the next phase, but is a quick and easy way to check posture at any point during the day. But for now, we are just going to use it to help setup the following exercises.
First is the chin tuck. Looking forward with your head level, place one finger on your chin and try to retract your head. Keep your gaze forward & don’t tilt the head forward or back during the duration of the exercise. Only go as far as you can keeping pain no higher than a 6 out of 10 (1 being no pain and 10 being excruciating pain). Don’t be surprised or frustrated if you can’t move very much at first. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the better it will feel!
Second is the head lean back. Sitting in chair, slowly tilt your head back as far as you can. This may be tough at first but it does get easier and less painful the more you do it and the further you lean back. Sometimes it helps to grab a towel and hold it behind neck. Perform this move approximately 8 times or until the discomfort becomes too much for you.
Third is side to side rotation. Pretend your head is on an axis and rotate to the one side as far as you can, return to the middle and then repeat on the other side. If you find that one side is a little more difficult than the other there’s a good chance you subconsciously spend more time babying one side of your neck. You may need to spend more time stretching that specific side. If you want a little extra stretch, you can place two fingers on your jaw and push your head across. Remember to keep your shoulders engaged during all three exercises and to take your time.
Did this routine help you? Feel free to reach out and let me know!