Your neck is an amazing thing. It lets you nod “yes” by going up and down, get to “no” by going back and forth, and keeps you safe while driving by looking over your shoulder.
As we all know, however, neck pain or soreness is very common. Here, I am not talking about things that can happen to your bones. That would include arthritis, disc issues, and inflammation of the joints. These are issues that need to be addressed by a physician, chiropractor, physiatrist, or spine specialist.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
I am talking about some common causes of neck pain that just come from chronic stress and strain. For example, if you chronically hold a position where your head and upper back are rounded forward, abnormal stresses are put on your muscles and tissues. When these stresses become the norm, some muscles get weak from disuse while others get tight from being used too much.
Sometimes, even your hobbies can eventually cause neck pain. Things like gardening, needlepoint or knitting, reading, going to movies, or taking long trips in the car. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Even when you are trying to relax, you can be giving yourself a pain in the neck.
What You Can Do for Yourself
At this point you may be wondering what you can do for yourself! Well, there’s lots. In general, keeping after your posture is huge. Some ways to do this are: making sure your mattress and pillows are supportive and current (meaning, not worn out), watching out for carrying shoulder bags on one side of your body a lot, not keeping your head to one side while on the phone, and letting go of emotional stress.
Another excellent way to fight back from all this gloom and doom is to get on top of your posture by paying attention to a huge muscle that goes all the way from the base of your skull to the lower part of your torso. It’s called your trapezius.
Here’s the thing. There are basically three parts to this gigantic muscle. There’s the upper, middle, and lower. Often in our forward-oriented lives, the upper traps get tight from having to hold your head in a forward position. And, there is another huge thing that comes from overactive upper traps. Often when we hold tension, our shoulders tend to creep up towards our ears. I bet if you stop whatever you are going right now (reading, I guess), you will find your shoulders elevated above a regular, relaxed, position. This is often so common that we don’t even realize we are doing it.
Meanwhile, the middle traps can suffer from laxity when your shoulder blades are rounded forward, and the lower traps also end up becoming weak because they are not often asked to keep you in a great upright posture.
SO. Finally we get to a couple of moves that can really help alleviate all that. AND, they can be done while you are seated. You can throw these in while working, doing some of the above-mentioned hobbies, or whenever you need an energizing mental break.
1. Shoulder Hikes
Sit tall in your chair (a sturdy, non-cushioned chair). Push your chin back to make sure your head is directly over your shoulders. Lift one shoulder WAY up toward that same side ear. Then, drop it with enthusiasm and vehemence. Let gravity help you with this. Then do the same with your other shoulder. Repeat, alternating, at least 10 times. Then let your shoulders settle in to a new, lower position away from your ears.
2. Rows for Your Lower Trapezius
This exercise is designed to get you to feel what your lower trapezius does for you. Once you get the feel of this, you can call on it more often! You can call on it to help keep your shoulders down, your shoulder blades drawn together, and your chest open. This is one of those keys for good posture and a pain-free neck.
Sit upright in your (non-cushioned) chair. Scooch forward so that your back is a few inches away from the back of the chair. Reach forward with both arms about waist high. Squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your shoulders down (from the last exercise), draw your arms back until your elbows touch the back of the chair. Notice that your chest lifts, opens, and the lower trapezius muscle is activated. Imprint that feeling so you can use get back to it again and again. Notice also that you feel better and more relaxed. This is your body in good alignment.
Use these exercises to reinforce good posture as often as you can! And, remember the alignment as you go about your day. This is good for neck pain and many others!
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