Neck tension, shoulder tension, chest tightness, heavy head, sore neck, lack of mobility, pinching, pain, frustration…and more. Can we release the neck and the upper back tension on our own? How? Can self care help during painful or chronic episodes? What steps can we take to stay out of tension before, after or without visiting a manual therapist? In this blog I will share five simplistic, inter-relatable, preventative and rehabilitative self care tips. Self care is the most important preventative measure in dealing with neck tension.
Most of my clients arrive to the clinic with flight related neck tension. Therefore, neck or upper back pain treatments have become the most often sought after therapeutic treatments at Sanaprana Tulum (integrative wellness clinic). Besides treating my clients through manual therapeutics, I enjoy educating them towards taking preventative and rehabilitative measures. Pain, greatly due to our inability to pay attention to its subtle signs, will cause us to feel confusion, fear and stress.
Pain is a communicator. Sometimes quiet and sometimes loud. Either way pain ask us to pay attention to something within our bodies. Pain sensations can be accompanied by different feelings and thoughts. Between feelings, sensations and thoughts it can get really confusing to get to the root of the problem. The root sometimes isn’t easily discovered, but the action of releasing the tension or pain, may uncover the root of it.
If pain is a communicator, than two or more parts have to be in a relationship for the communication to take place. So, consider looking at your body as a complex living structure of ever changing relationships. Than, imagine your best friendships. Than imagine the not so good ones. Generally the good friendships are nurtured by great or reoccurring communication whereas the not so good friendships are maintained by limited communication. Now, consider your body. Ever noticed how some parts of your body are way harder to activate or feel while others respond right away?
To make a friendship steady, you have to feed it with energy. If you sever a relationship, you cut off the communication with the person. The body works the same way. If you want to have a good friendship with your neck, you have to create an effective dialogue with it. One of the quickest ways to establish communication between the body and the mind is through breath.
BREATHE INTO YOUR NECK AND THROAT AREA
Most people’s necks are stiff and their breaths shallow from the static muscle holds or repetitive activities. The first and the easiest step to combat an epidemic of neck problems is through deep breathing. When you breathe fully, inclusively into your neck and throat area, you help reactivate the weak neck and upper back muscles and release the strained ones. You don’t have to breathe deeply all day long. Though, you can implement big full breaths to create movement where there is lack of mobility and help release some tension through a forced sigh or loud exhale. When you change your breathing pattern from a shallow breathing pattern with a stiff neck to a deep one with neck movement you will experience a change in the severity of your tension and discomfort.
Breathing is our number one tool to assess and release stress, pain and tension. Basically, our bodies are intelligent self serving medicine cabinets filled with healing tools and we just have to connect with our breath to stimulate the mending. All you really have to do when you feel tension is recognize it and take a few dramatic breaths that mobilize your chest and neck areas and sigh out as you exhale. The following video shows simple breathing techniques that can be transformational for your neck/upper back and shoulders.
Besides sighs and home remedial breaths, consider experiencing or learning pranayama exercises on your own or through a yoga class. In Pranacore classes we practice dynamic breathing exercises that help create great relationships between breath and movement, breath and energy, breath and blood flow and breath the spinal fluid movement. We don’t only learn to move the stagnant energy, pain and tension out of the body, we also learn to transform it into usable energy for our lives. Besides transmuting tension into energy potential, we raise our heart rate through exercise, naturally stimulating a deep breathing mechanism.
MOVE YOUR NECK
Some modern day activities such as looking at the computer screen or phone for hours basically train our neck muscles to do specific and long endurance static postures. If you maintain your neck in a static position for the majority of your day, you should also mobilize it in all other directions to balance out the tension build up. Otherwise, your immobile neck will become so trained to be strained.
Our neck muscles are stabilizers, neck movers and accessory breathing muscles stalked up in layers. They are up depend on each other for assistance. Take time every few hours and take your neck through its ranges of motion like tilts, rotations, flexion and extension in order to interrupt the tension building in specific areas. This will help mobilize the cervical joints. Move your jaw around. Warm up and stretch your shoulder and back muscles. Breathe. Deeply. Focused breath will help mobilize the deeper layers of the torso and neck muscles while movements of the shoulders and arms will allow for superficial muscle tension release and keep tension and restriction at bay.
Check out the video bellow for some interesting ideas on how to mobilize your neck and release the tension.
At Sanaprana Tulum, we offer semi private therapeutic classes aimed for specific body parts. These classes help erase the paralyzing fear of movement that comes with pain and tension. You will learn to transform your body’s tension into mouldable energy potential towards healing or preventing injuries and other conditions.
DECOMPRESS YOUR NECK
Let your head hang free. Bring your head bellow your heart. Decompress your neck. Decompression can be applied with help of decompression tables, downward stretching, folds, foam rollers and rolled up towels. If you have the luxury to use a decompression table you will almost immediately feel your spine lengthen via the pull of gravity. Any stretching should be preceded by the above suggested movement exercises and breathing practices.
If you experience vertigo or nausea as a result of an inversions, instead of forcing your head upside down consider folding forward with you knees bent and letting your head hang heavy under two minutes. You can also be seated, fold forward and rest your chest on your knees allowing your head to hang. And if any inversion causes your apprehension, you can try resting with a foam roller, or towel at the the base of your neck, allowing your head to drop down. Ultimately, there are many ways to decompress the neck, start slow for short periods and see what happens as a result.
TRY A DIFFERENT PILLOW
One of the ways people stress their necks is through the use of improper pillows. But, pillows can also help in correcting improper structural tension during sleep. As we spend at least 1/4 of our day sleeping, sleep can be of huge benefit to our healing and recovery. Bad pillows can take away from this experience. On the other hand, memory foam pillows can help support the head while resting better as they are firmer and don’t force the neck to go into a bracing or holding position.
Consider buying a good quality foam pillow or a bed. This is an incredible investment that can benefit for years. If you don’t want to buy a good memory foam pillow, consider a harder memory foam travel pillow. They are inexpensive and well designed size wise to support only just the necessary part of the neck. Another helpful tool is a rolled up hand towel that you can place under your shoulders or neck. Changing pillows has been very helpful for my clients and myself inclusive. Having said that, once you’ve felt some relief through using a foam pillow, consider sleeping on your back without any pillow.
ACTIVATE YOUR SENSES WITH MUSCLE RUBS
As a result of numbing or blocking pain messages, not breathing correctly and stress, our senses become slightly frozen. Through breath and movement you can excite your senses. Additionally, excite your nervous system by applying hot or cool muscle gels on the tense, stiff or numb areas. This will establish a completely different sensory experience apart from what you feel when under strain or tension. When we excite the nerves, we establish a communication between the brain and the affected area, reviving that relationship in your body.