It seems that almost every client who comes through our door mentions neck pain as a primary complaint. Whether you can no longer turn your head in a certain direction, or it is just "where you carry your tension", this pain can seriously slow you down. Sometimes it is clear to see where the pain is coming from. Perhaps you were involved in a car accident years ago and since then, the neck pain is always there. Or you woke up with a "crink" and it seems that you slept wrong. Other times, it can seem downright baffling as to why the neck and shoulders are always tight and tense.
There can be several causes of neck pain, and of course some of these are related to the spine and discs. You may need to see a doctor before proceeding with massage or other self help tricks. If you are having any tingling sensations or numbness, particularly when turning the head, it is a good idea to check things out first with your doctor. However, if you are someone for whom neck pain creeps up subtly, or is always just "tense" through the neck and shoulders, there are many things you can do to help yourself.
First of all, take a moment to think about the following habits and see if you might be doing one or more of these things that can lead to pain.
* Talking on the phone while holding it between your head and your shoulder.
* Holding a child in one position all the time. This is especially easy to do when nursing or feeding, as you are also likely looking down and to one side each time.
* Sleeping on your side or even worse, on your stomach.
* Working with a computer in front of you, but constantly looking to one side or the other of the monitor/keyboard to read from a document or something similar. Or are you working on a computer but turning your head to look at someone who is speaking to you?
* Constantly looking down at a laptop, ipad, cell phone, book, Nook, Kindle, etc. The list of toys we use daily has us looking down more than ever!
* Using a keyboard that is too high for you, causing your shoulders to remain elevated for long periods of time.
If any of the above habits sound familiar, you probably have experienced the resulting pain from time to time. The body is truly amazing, and the bones, muscles and ligaments will respond according to the stress put upon them. This means that continuing to move through poor postures will begin to have a lasting effect on the structures of the body in order to support these habits. The only problem is that these structural changes start to cause us pain, as the body is no longer operating in its natural, most efficient alignment. You will start to feel restrictions and adhesions in the muscles and the connective tissues through the neck and shoulders. You may notice that it is a bit of a strain to look behind you as you back your car out of a parking space, or you may begin to have frequent headaches which seem to start at the base of your skull.
Many of the habits above put us into what is called Forward Head Posture. Our heads are meant to live tension free on the top of our spines. Looking from the side, our earlobes should line up right over our shoulders. However, this is not the case for many folks, as our modern world seems to be pulling us down more and more. During the course of our work, which for the most part is in front of us, our posture slowly becomes more slumped, causing the shoulders to round forward. The head must then adjust so that the eyes are once again level, otherwise we would be staring at the ground. This causes a tremendous amount of strain in the muscles and ligaments of the neck, and in turn, causes neck pain.
Massage therapy is a wonderful beginning to relieve this strain, but changing these harmful habits will be the key to long term relief.
Some of these habits are easier to break than others. For example, an easy fix for the first habit is to buy a headset for your phone. This allows you to keep your head upright, and still be doing things with your hands while you talk on the phone. Incidentally, even if you are not wedging the phone between your head and shoulder, just the act of holding it with the same hand constantly can be a problem for that shoulder, sometimes contributing to shoulder blade pain. Headsets are the way to go!
It will be difficult to stop holding a child, but you can at least mix up which side you are using and make sure that your posture is correct while doing so. If you notice that you are looking down and to one side, ask yourself if you need to stay that way for the duration. Try to align your earlobes over the shoulders and remind yourself often to reposition yourself.
Sleeping on your
back may be the best option, although it is a challenge to change your
favorite sleeping position! If you are a stomach sleeper, this is the
worst offender for the neck. It absolutely keeps you in a bad position
for HOURS at a time. Try to adjust, at the very least, to side sleeping.
If you are already a side sleeper, try at least starting on your back
and then moving to the non-favored side. Sometimes using a body pillow
can be helpful to take some pressure off the neck and shoulders and to
ensure that you do not roll onto your stomach. This is particularly
helpful during pregnancy, as they do actually recommend you sleep on
* Set up your work station so that your computer monitor is at your eye level.
* Make sure your keyboard is at a height that allows the shoulders to relax and you can maintain good posture.
* Wear/get glasses if you are having trouble seeing the screen. Sometimes we don't even realize that we are needing to get closer and closer to read what is in front of us, and doing so ensures that Forward Head Posture we talked about earlier.
* Check in with yourself regularly to make sure the ears are over the shoulders.
* Simply pay attention to how much time you are spending on your electronics. Make sure to break up long periods of use with some activity! Also, look for ways to bring them more to your eye level, rather than bringing your eyes down to their level.
* Notice your
reaction to stress. Many of our clients will mention that they already
do notice that as soon as they feel stressed, they tense their shoulders
and or even the neck and jaw muscles. The more you notice what you are
doing, the more you can do to stop it. Instead of tensing, take a deep
breath, roll your shoulders down and back. move the head around and
think of being soft in the throat and face. You will need to go through
these steps for a long time before they start to become second nature.
Hopefully these tips and tricks, along with some good massage, will help you to avoid future pain in the neck. It is not about perfection of posture, more so awareness. Since we cannot stop doing necessary things like working and holding our children, we must learn ways to recover from all of the things our daily lives ask of us.