Sometimes, I find something unexpected causes neck pain but when I analyze the situation it all makes sense.
Last Sunday morning, my wife and I were doing our morning meditation in our living room. I decided to move from the hard-backed chair I normally sit in to our new sofa we had purchased from a local furniture company. It is a pretty sofa and sits well, except I learned something new about this new sofa.
In past newsletters, I have spoken about the importance of the size of the seat that we sit in. The seat should rub up against the back of our knees while our hips are snug against the back of the chair. Well, that is half right in regard to picking a chair, or sofa. The back is just as important as the depth of the seat. Our new sofa is not a reclining sofa in the sense of having a footrest and the back lies back. The back of our sofa is shorter and has a pillow for the back, which leans against a backboard.
What I noticed this morning, as I sat quietly for twenty minutes, was that my head was leaning forward, which placed a strain on the back of my neck. I could feel my back leaning farther and farther back, which caused my head to lean forward more and more. The sofa is fine to sit on for short periods of time. However, sitting on it for longer periods of time could lead to a headache or stiff neck.
What Causes Neck Pain?
Sitting in a position that causes your head to jut forward will shorten the neck muscles on the front side,(the sternocleidomastoid or SCM, for short) and place a tremendous amount of pressure on the backside (the levator scapulae) of the neck. Initially, this can cause headaches or a feeling you need to stretch your neck. Typically, when we stretch our neck, we bend the head downward to stretch it because it is the back of the neck where the pain occurs. If you do this, you would be wrong. It is the muscles on the front side, or SCMs, that are too short. When the SCMs are too short, the muscles on the backside (levator scapulae) overwork, causing a spasm. As the pain increases, the Traps or trapezius muscles will contract to cause your shoulders to rise up towards your ears.
A normal recliner with a puffy headrest, an airplane seat, or a car seat, with forward-leaning headrests, will force the head forward – typically this is what causes neck pain. Sadly, most therapists will work on the shoulders since the pain occurs there. This is part of their training, like ours.
How to Solve this Neck Pain
Resolving neck pain is simple–stretch out the front of the neck! Doing it can be hard, especially if you try to do it as we are frequently taught. If you sit in a normal chair and look up towards the ceiling, you are not stretching your neck as much as you are tightening the back of the neck. Isn’t that what got you into this mess to begin with? If you force your head upwards, again you will use the muscles on the backside, either to help lift your head or resist too much pressure. Sitting and rotating your head from side to side, just makes no sense. Think about it. If I can only turn my head twenty degrees to one side, what on earth would allow me to think that just by turning my head, with no external pressure, my neck will somehow turn more than it ever had? If it could, it would have already.
Here is the best thing to do
Sit in a hard-backed chair, legs uncrossed. Rest your head in the palms of both hands (take a minute and feel the weight), then, without using your neck, use your palms to push your head up towards the ceiling. You should only feel the muscles on the front side stretching. Hold for five seconds and repeat ten times. If you feel the backside pulling then stop, reset, and do it correctly. Without a chair back to support your back, you might lean backward. While that is a good core strengthening exercise, it will not stretch your neck.
I am not going to tell you how far you should be able to go because driven people will push the envelope to get the A. Don’t worry about that and focus on feeling the front of your neck let go. I feel a little feisty this morning, don’t I?
If the front of the neck is too tight, you can stretch one side at a time. Sit in the hard-backed chair, legs uncrossed, and place the right hand on the left temple of the head and gently pull the head down to the right. Apply a little pressure to the head with your right hand as if you are trying to touch your right ear to your right shoulder. Hold for five seconds and repeat ten times. Then do the other side to balance you out.
I would do both stretches each day even after the pain stops. You cannot overdo it because we use our neck constantly. Besides who wants to stand like an old man or lady, not me?
Best Practices for Stretching
All you need is a yoga strap and a tennis ball for the tennis ball massage. Give yourself about 15 minutes twice a day and you should see better results within 2 weeks. This, though, is a lifetime event. Think of your pet. they stretch every day and several times a day. Stretch when they stretch. Follow the videos below and free your knees. In my opinion, the calf stretch is the most important stretch a human can do. It will solve many issues of the body.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
Softening your hips and back is easy when you use the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder, but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. Continue doing this until most of the painful spots are gone. Check out previous newsletters to see the video.
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About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese, and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allows clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.