Release, Restore, and Strengthen to Reduce Your Neck Pain
You look down at your computer. You sometimes sit there for hours. After dinner, you relax by plopping your iPad or laptop on your lap and stare down at social media. There’s even a new term for what we are doing to our neck.
“Text neck” is the modern term for looking down at your cell, tablet or laptop too often or for too long. Children and teens today may be more at risk since they’re starting younger. Add to that, women tend to carry stress in the neck and upper back. Whether this is all true for you or just partly true, one thing is for sure. It’s all cause for a pain in the neck.
What’s happening when this neck pain happens? The forward head position caused by poor postural habits and potentially poor ergonomics (elevate that screen height so your eyes are level with the middle of the screen) make your cervical spine extensors, levator scapulae, and upper trapezius muscles tight. Then again, you don’t need an anatomy lesson to know that a good shoulder rub is heaven.
Though I never met a shoulder rub I didn’t like, to relieve the problem for good it’s going to take more than five minutes once. It won’t, however, take longer than five minutes a day. Here’s a 3-step process you can start right now to reduce your neck pain. It takes no sweat, no heavy breathing, and nearly instant relief. If you have any pre-existing conditions of the spine or degeneration, check first with a physician before doing these exercises. This sequence is not a substitute for medical advise!
Symptoms or Problem?
Before we dive into the exercises, understand that while the pain may be in the neck, the neck might not be the only problem. Fixing your posture will help. Postural problems start with the upper back with weak muscles surrounding the shoulder blades. When you strengthen those muscles you’ll have less tension on the upper back and neck muscles. The three-step approach here offers both immediate relief and a more permanent fix for the reason your neck is sore. Follow along with the video.
First Step: Release
For immediate “ah,” perform these two stretches mid-morning and mid-afternoon especially if you are in front of a screen much of the day.
- Start with a simple ear-to-shoulder neck stretch. Add gentle pressure with the hand and hold 30 to 60 seconds.
- Next, change the angle slightly and bring your chin toward your chest to either side as if you were looking directly down your thigh. Go just to a place where you feel a mild stretch and assist gently with your hand.
Second Step: Restore
Next, you want to restore mobility to the upper back (thoracic spine) and wake up weaker muscles between your scapula. You’ll “reset” your posture in this phase by first doing exaggerated motions.
- Protract (separate) and retract (draw together) your shoulder blades. Alternate 15-20 times.
- Then, roll your shoulders first up and then down and around drawing them down toward your hips. Repeat the circles 15 times.
Third Step: Strengthen
Finally, to reduce the frequency of neck pain strengthen the weak muscles of the upper back. In addition, you want to optimize your work station and take frequent breaks.
- Perform a micro-cobra by extending with the upper back. Remember that it’s the role of the head and neck to follow the upper back and not to lead.
- Then, using the forearms for support yet not using them to lift you repeat with greater range of motion as you focus on drawing shoulder blades together.
- Next, with palms face down, bring your pinkies to your sides, elbows up. Attempt to bring your elbows as close to each other as possible. Hold 2-3 seconds, release, and repeat.
- Last, put your hands out to your side like airplane wings. Be sure palms are face down with your pinkies in toward your body. Lift slightly leading with the upper back and draw the shoulder blades together and toward the hips.
To start, repeat each of the exercises 1-2 times a day for 15-20 repetitions. Progress to 3-4 sets a day. Be patient. These small muscles have a short attention span. They don’t require much “overload” but they do need frequent attention to reduce neck pain.
Tip: If lying flat on the floor causes discomfort through your lower back try the same sequence over a Bosu ball to support your lower back.
For additional exercises adapted to women over 50 that help prevent injury and strengthen our bodies, check out this post and video on core exercise.
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