Neck pain is one of the most common complaints we see as massage therapists. And in a world where most people spend the majority of their day on a computer, that’s no surprise. In fact, if you’re reading this blog post, you’re on a computer right now. Time for a pop quiz: Where is your head right now?
Is your head directly over your shoulders? Or is it slightly forward - or even a lot forward? Are you looking straight ahead of you, or is your head tilted down to see the screen?
As a nearsighted person, I have terrible computer posture because I’m always leaning forward to get a closer look at what I’m doing. And as I get tired, my shoulders slump forward and my whole spine rounds forward. When I work at a computer for more than a few hours, my neck turns into one big ache.
But it’s not just our work on computers that can impact our neck. Hobbies and sports can take their toll as well. Cyclists have to have their shoulders down and head up to have proper posture on the road, and this creates chronic compression in the back of the neck. Swimmers are also prone to neck pain, because of the twisting motion required to breathe during the freestyle stroke. Triathlon training is basically a recipe for neck pain - which is why we recommend daily stretching and self care routines for triathletes, office workers, and anyone else who experiences frequent neck pain.
Stretches & Self Care for Neck Pain
These stretches should be done every day for optimal results. As with any home stretching routine, proceed carefully, respect your body’s limits, and stop immediately if you feel a sharp, shooting pain.
- Doorway Stretch
This is the stretch I give as “homework” to most of my new clients. It targets the pectoral muscles, which in most of us are too short and too tense. Tight pectorals restrict and shorten the muscles in the front of our neck, and cause pain in the back of the neck and between the shoulder blades.
To perform this stretch, stand in a doorway and anchor your elbows in the door frame on either side of you. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your chest. Hold for at least 90 seconds.
For a more relaxed version of this stretch, try the “Heart Bench” from Martin’s recent blog post, Use it Or Lose it: How Age Affects Flexibility.
- Anchored Neck Rolls
This exercise can also be done in a doorway, or it can be done sitting in a chair. For this exercise, shrug your shoulders back and down your back, and then hold onto the seat of the chair or the edges of the doorway in order to help your shoulders stay in place. Then, gently begin to roll your head counterclockwise on your neck. Let it drop forward, then to the right, then slightly back, and to the left, and forward again. Take deep breaths and pay attention to any areas of tightness. When you find a stretch that feels good, stay there for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. You can even use the opposite hand to gently assist in the stretch.
- Tennis Ball Massage
Tennis balls make wonderful self-massage tools. You can lie on the floor and place tennis balls right where the skull rests on the neck, moving your head back and forth to feel the massage. Tennis balls also feel great at the junction of the shoulder and neck, and right between the shoulder blades. You could even lie face down and place the tennis ball just inside your armpit for a nice pec massage.
Hot and cold compresses can feel wonderful on a sore neck. Try putting a towel in the freezer, or investing in a Magic Bag, Bed Buddy, or other similar hot/cold wrap.
Over-the-counter pain medications such as Advil, Tylenol, or aspirin can be helpful, but taking too many of them can have a variety of adverse health effects. If you find yourself needing to take pain medication regularly, talk to your doctor. And always let your massage therapist know if you’ve taken pain medication before you come in for your massage.
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This article/video is for educational purposes only; do not attempt without your physician’s clearance. If you are in pain or injured, see your physician.