5 Quick and Easy Things to Do When You Have Neck Pain
by Justine Calderwood, PT, MSPT
1) Check your pillow and see how well it supports your neck while you are sleeping. If you are a side-sleeper, make sure your pillow isn’t too fluffy or too flat…it should allow your neck to be a neutral position when you rest your head, meaning your head isn’t side-bent up or down. If you are a back sleeper, try rolling up a hand towel and placing it under the curve of your neck for extra support. You can place the towel roll inside your pillow case to keep it in place. Again, try to achieve a neutral position by having a pillow that isn’t too big or too small. NEVER sleep on your stomach….this cuts off the blood supply to your brain and places too much stress on the joints of your neck and jaw.
2) If you have a stiff neck that makes it difficult to turn and look over your shoulder, thereby limiting your driving ability, try some gentle neck stretches. The best position to start in is lying on your back. This gives your neck a break from having to hold your head up. While lying on your back, turn and look over your right shoulder, going only go as far as you can until you feel a gentle stretch, but not pain. Hold for 3 minutes or longer, allowing your neck to relax and your head to turn further, as if you’re melting into the motion. Repeat to the other side. Now try looking up, feeling a stretch in the front of your neck and maybe even into your chest. You can increase the stretch by placing your hands just below your collar bones and allowing your hands to gently pull toward your feet. Again, hold for 3 minutes or longer, allowing the muscles that line the front of your neck to melt and lengthen. Most people don’t have as much difficulty looking down, but if you do, simply tuck your chin toward your chest and feel the muscles of your neck and upper back elongate as you hold the stretch for 3 minutes or longer. It’s best to do these stretches without distractions, so try to find create a quiet and comfortable place so you can tune into the subtle melting of your body.
3) Get moving! Many people experience pain when they sit too long at their desks, computer or in the car. Our bodies are designed to move, and sitting too long puts stress through our spine and neck and can cause tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck muscles. If you have to sit for long periods, make a point of getting up frequently to relieve tension, re-hydrate the discs of your spine, and ease discomfort. If it helps, set a timer on your phone to go off every 30-45 minutes and stand up, reach toward the sky and to each side, do some shoulder rolls, sway side to side, or take a short walk around your office, home, or outside. Walking helps the spinal discs to re-hydrate by the compression/decompression motion involved, and keeps the joints of your spine lubricated and healthy. Movement, such as walking, stimulates a release of endorphins, which are our body’s natural pain killers, so we feel less pain.
4) Check your posture. When you are working at your computer is it set at eye level, straight in front of you, so that you don’t have to look down, up or to the side in order to read your screen? When sitting, are your feet on the floor, hips and knees at 90 degrees and elbows at 90 degrees when you are sitting in your chair, with your hands resting on the keyboard? If you don’t have an adjustable height chair I suggest you invest in one, especially if you do desk work for a living. In the meantime, try achieving this optimal position with the use of a foot stool or by sitting on a folded towel. Also pay attention when you use your smartphone. Are you leaning your head forward and slumping your shoulders when you look at the screen? Instead, try sitting up straighter, raising your arms a bit to bring the screen up to eye level.
5) Try some self-massage or self-releases to relieve tension in your neck, jaw, and shoulders. Feel around the back and front of your neck for areas of tenderness, tension or pain. Common areas of tension and discomfort are in the fleshy part of the neck just below where your neck meets your head, the front of the neck and along the jawline, and the upper back/shoulders. Using the pads of your fingers, gently press into the muscles of the back of your neck. When you find a tender area press into it and wait for your body to soft and release, allowing your fingers to sink deeper as your body melts. You can do this same type of release using your thumbs or finger pads along the jaw and jawline. To release the upper back and shoulder muscles you may get some relief by using a tennis ball or small inflatable ball, lying onto it or pressing against it while sitting in a chair. Place the ball in a tender or tense area, then let your body weight press into the ball, waiting for a minimum of 5 minutes for a release to occur and your body to soften. If you have time, move the ball to another sore spot and repeat.
I hope you find some relief of your neck pain by trying these tips. Keep in mind that if something doesn’t “feel right” or causes you more pain, you have permission to STOP doing the suggested tips and seek one-on-one help. Leave a comment below on your experience or what else you have found that helps. If you continue to have pain or stiffness that limits your ability to do the things you enjoy or that you need to do every day, contact me to see what more I can do to help you move easier and feel better.
At The Healing Spot Physical Therapy, LLC we specialize in hands-on therapy targeted at restoring balance to the body. We find and release soft-tissue restrictions and show you what you can do at home to help yourself, which complements our one-on-one treatment approach. We serve the communities of Woodland Park, Divide, Florissant, Lake George, Green Mountain Falls, Cascade, and Manitou Springs, Colorado. If you are interested in specialist physical therapy care for neck pain or other conditions, we’d love to help you move easier and feel better.