Many of the patients seen at SPARCC deal with neck pain as a direct result of head injuries due to anything from contact sports, to falls, to motor vehicle accidents. While these injuries are common causes of neck pain, many people experience some degree of neck pain just from day-to-day stress and poor posture from sitting at the computer all day. If you are experiencing prolonged neck pain it would be beneficial for you to see us in clinic so that we can address the root cause and get you in with our athletic trainers or start physical therapy. However, if you are just experiencing mild neck pain every now and then, and feel tighter than normal across the muscles in your neck and upper back, there are many quick and easy stretches and exercises that you can do to address the posture and muscle imbalances that can help relieve neck pain.
The first step is to preserve your full neck range of motion. This can be done by moving your neck in each direction up to the point that you can do so without significantly increasing pain. Start by turning your head all the way to the left, then the right, while keeping your shoulders facing forwards. Then, try to bring your left ear as close to your left shoulder as you can, and repeat on the right side. Lastly, bring your chin all the way to your chest, then look up to the ceiling. Repeat these movements in each direction 15 times.
Next, you will want to stretch any muscles that might be tight. Muscles that are commonly aggravated by poor posture, or simply by stress, include the trapezius and levator scapulae in the upper back, the cervical paravertebral muscles on either side of the spine going up your neck, and the scalenes on the right and left sides of your neck. To stretch these muscles, you will sit in a chair and anchor the affected side by holding the bottom of the chair with that hand. You will then reach above your head with the opposite hand and gently side bend the neck opposite of the affected side, bringing the ear towards the shoulder. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. Then, perform the same stretch, but gently bend your neck to the side and down, like you’re smelling your armpit. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds on each side.
Last but not least, you will want to strengthen the various muscles supporting your head and neck. You can easily do this by providing a gentle resistance with your hand against your head while moving your head in each direction against the gentle resistance provided by your hand. You will want to do this in each of the same directions as your range of motion exercises described up above, bringing your chin towards your chest, extending your neck and looking up towards the ceiling, turning your head to the left and to the right, and bringing your ear towards your shoulder on each side. When performing the exercise, we are aiming for an “isometric” contraction, which means your head should stay still while pushing against your hand instead of moving through the range of motion.
These exercises, when done regularly in combination with aerobic exercise, can help you keep things more loose and relaxed when stress arises. If you continue to have prolonged neck pain even after doing these exercises for several days, or if you have pain radiating down your back or your arm, please call us to make an appointment so that we can help you get down to the bottom of it.
Sports medicine patient advisor, Neck strain (primarycaresportsmedicine.com)
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By Cameron Seamons and Alee Vladyka