Hello everyone! It’s good to be back 🙂 It was also really great to take a break. We spent 2 weeks in Florida, but are now back at home in Oahu.
I’ve recently shared some big news over on Instagram, but in case you missed it, I’m pregnant! I’ll be 20 weeks this week. I won’t go into much more details about it just yet, but I will say that my husband and I are very excited (and I’m a bit nervous) and I’ve been enjoying this trimester much better than the last!
Anyway! I’m going to dive right into today’s post. I decided to write about this months ago when I realized how many, many people deal with neck pain on almost a daily basis. It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes neck pain isn’t always muscular, and in those cases I would encourage anyone to find a qualified chiropractor to assist with that. With that being said, most neck pain can be treated at home or by a massage therapist.
Your massage therapist can only do about 20-25% of the work. The real work lies with YOU, the individual. No one else can be there with you all day everyday to keep track of how your sitting, sleeping, reading, cooking, driving, or what you’re carrying. All of these aspects of life can have huge impacts on the health of your neck and shoulders.
Today’s post is part 1 of 2. This week I’m focusing on what we can all do to prevent neck pain. Next week in part 2, I will share a video with tried and true tips on how to deal with neck pain once it’s started. These are tips I use myself and recommend to my clients/students. I have had many people tell me how much just bringing awareness to posture and self care has changed their experience with neck pain.
Right now I’m going to cover what you can do on a daily basis to ensure that your neck is as happy as possible and that it maintains it’s natural range of motion (ROM). All of these tips I have repeated countless times to both my yoga students and my massage clients. Not a shift goes by where I don’t have at least 1 client come in complaining of neck pain. The majority (95%+) of those clients see relief from the massage, but as I said before, the real work must be done by the individual. What follows are the tips and tricks that I tell anyone and everyone who’s interested.
1 – Check Your Posture
I won’t lie, this is an all day everyday awareness that needs to happen for all of us. Once we get into the habit of maintaining good posture, it becomes less cumbersome. The biggest offenders of posture-related neck pain are computers, books, driving, and smart phone use. Let’s talk about driving first.
For most people who spend anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes in a car each day, most likely driving isn’t going to be a big issue. However, for those of you who commute to and from work spending 90 minutes to 2.5 hours in the car, that is where posture becomes very important.
- Make sure to have the low back well supported, either by a rolled up towel or pre-made lumbar support pillow. This will keep the natural curvature of the spine intact and allow the neck to sit in a more neutral position.
- Try to relax the arms and shoulders as much as possible. Notice if you are holding the steering wheel in a death grip or always have the arms raised up above “9 o’clock” and “3 o’clock”. Are your shoulders hunched up next to your ears from stress? Breathe deep and relaaaxxxx.
- When you stop at a red light or are stuck in traffic, move your neck around in whatever way feels good for you. Just make sure to do so slowly and mindfully – no whipping the head around.
- This may seem unimportant, but what kind of music/talk radio are you listening to? This can have a big impact on our stress levels and therefore our pain levels. Try soothing music or an audio book instead of the trash talk, bad news, or death metal.
This one is HUGE. About 90% of the clients I see with chronic neck pain work with computers most or all of their day. I have even worked on children who are experiencing neck pain from poor posture while using a computer or smart phone.
- The biggest thing to remember when looking at our posture while using a computer is that the computer screen should be directly in front of our face. If we are constantly having to look down, up, or to the side, you WILL experience neck pain at some point. This is not a matter of if, but a matter of when.
- Shoulders, neck, and head need to be facing the same direction; this ties into the above. If your keyboard is off to the side, even by just a few inches, and you have to turn your head to see the screen, you are overworking the muscles on one side of your neck. That is the side that is most likely to experience the most pain. Not only that, but the muscles in the opposite side of your neck will become stretched and most likely weakened.
- Stretch your neck. Even if you have perfect posture for your head, neck, and shoulders, your neck muscles still need to be “woken up” and stretched periodically throughout the day.
- Try this → each time you get up to use the restroom, stretch your neck.
Smart Phones & Reading
This is second only to computer use, and for some of the population, it comes first. Think about it, how many hours per day do you spend on your
phone? I would assume 2 hours at a bare minimum, and for most of us, it’s closer to 3-4. Even if that time is broken up throughout the day, which it most likely will be, all that time still has an impact on our necks.
- Hold your phone or book up to face height as much as possible – avoid spending more than a few minutes at a time looking down. I can’t tell you how many people I see holding their phone down around waist height and looking down at it. Yikes! Think about it like this, what’s holding us down to the planet? Yes, gravity. And it’s not just that it’s “holding us down”, but rather pushing us down. Gravity is pushing down on your head and pulling on your neck muscles each time you look down. The longer you look down, the more strain the muscles are experiencing.
- Once you realize that you’ve been looking down for a bit, tilt your head back. This will lengthen the muscles at the front of the neck and allow the shoulder and neck muscles in the back to get a bit of a rest. Don’t tilt back for too long, just until it feels good, then move your neck around in it’s natural ROM to help wake up the muscles and get some blood and oxygen flowing.
2 – Sleeping Positions/Pillows
We do so much damage to ourselves when we sleep! I won’t get into all of the different ways our sleeping habits can cause problems, but just know that they are many. Right now I’m just going to address how to deal with neck pain related sleeping.
Oh, pillows. What would we do without them? I don’t know about you, but I’m extremely picky when it comes to pillows. Too big/fluffy and I feel like the side of the face goes numb. Too soft/mushy and my neck doesn’t have enough support. Choosing the correct pillow is extremely important.
- Are you a side, stomach, or back sleeper or a combination of the three? How you spend most of the night will determine what kind of pillow you buy. I have bought dozens of pillows over the years and only a few of them have made the cut. Even when that happens they eventually wear out and need to be replaced. Oh how I dread those days!
- Don’t be afraid to spend some money on a good pillow. We spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping, don’t you think that time deserves a good pillow?
This is huge, perhaps even more important than choosing the correct pillow.
- I’m going to ruin someone’s day right now and tell you that sleeping on your stomach is the absolute worst thing you can do for your neck. Having the neck turned at such an extreme angle for hours at a time is not good. Some of the muscles are getting over-stretched and weakened, and some of them are getting over-contracted and tight. There is almost nothing to be done for this issue outside of changing the way you sleep. Back sleeping and side sleeping are the best positions not only for your neck, but for your posture as a whole.
- For side sleepers, sometimes there is a tendency to tuck the chin into the chest. This should also be avoided because it starts to take out the natural curvature of the cervical spine and over stretches the muscles in the back of the neck. Try to make sure your neck is in as neutral of a position as possible when going to sleep.
- For back sleepers, how the neck is turned or angled should be the biggest consideration. Most people turn the neck to one side or the other naturally. This becomes an issue when one side is favored and more time is spent with the neck tilted to the side. This causes muscle imbalances. Good pillows for back sleepers will support the natural curvature in the neck.
3 – What are you carrying?
This is admittedly a bigger issue for women who carry purses, any parent that totes around a diaper bag, office workers that carry a laptop for a large portion of the day, or people who rely on public transportation a lot and must carry their things with them.
- If carrying a bag on one shoulder, the bag should be no more than 3lbs.
- Cross-body bags are better as they distribute the weight more evenly, but beware of how cross-body bags sit on the upper trapezius muscle. If you are prone to tension headaches, they could be triggered by the weight of the bag on that muscle, activating latent trigger points. If you feel this happening, immediately switch sides.
- Clean out your bag frequently. This goes for gym bags, purses, diaper bags, computer bags, backpacks, etc. Cleaning them out will reduce the weight you are carrying.
- Ladies, I encourage you now to get into the habit of switching sides with your bag. I carry a single shoulder purse that has an extendable strap for cross-body wearing, but I don’t use it that way every time. I switch to the cross-body carry if I know I will be standing or walking with my bag for long periods of time. Otherwise, I switch shoulders frequently when wearing it on just one shoulder. This took me about 6 months to get used to switching, but it is well worth the hassle.
That’s it for today! I know this post is long, but I hope you’ve gotten something useful out of it.
Be sure to come back in 2 weeks, July 26th, to watch the video where I explain how to deal with neck pain at home. You won’t want to miss it!
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