I work with about 200 busybodies a week. That’s a whole lot of neck pain. More than half of my clients regularly feel the uncomfortable effects of working, stressing, sitting, typing and texting for long hours. I see the side effects of the use and abuse we put our bodies through as active (or inactive) people. I hear all about the pinching in the neck, pain in the low back, tension in the hips, and yet there’s never mention about what they’ve done to try to get to the source of their discomfort and address their lack of mobility.
Here’s the thing…if you keep trying to move harder, faster, or stronger before addressing your mobility, you’ll end up getting tighter and weaker instead. This means your now-manageable issues will eventually turn into unmanageable injuries. Just like meditation is a practice to release mental stress and strengthen your focus, mobility is a practice to release physical tension and a way to strengthen movement.
This post is the start of a series designed to help you move better in your daily life. I’ll be addressing the most common discomforts we feel in our bodies and break down why we’ve gotten to this point and how we can find instant relief.
Kicking it off, we’re starting from the top down with our poor, stiff necks.
“Take tension and weight out of where you don’t want it, and put it where you do.”
In other words, learn how to find your tension. Even now while you’re reading this, where do you feel the most tension building in your body? Are you sitting at work or at home shrugging your shoulders and tightening up your neck? Maybe you’re in transit or lying in bed reading this from your phone with your shoulders rounding over and up the neck. Notice where you’re feeling the tension, take it out of there and put it somewhere else, like the glutes, back or core. On your next exhale, relax your body and release any uncomfortable tension you have. Take an inhale and on the following exhale, tighten your core and squeeze your glutes. Now that you’ve reset your body in a better braced position, let’s get to addressing the pain points in your neck.
“The weight of the head is a key factor. The neck muscles are meant to support the weight of the head in a neutral position — 10 to 12 pounds. However, many people look down at a 60-degree angle when texting on their phones, which places 60 pounds of force on their neck.” 1
What neck pain are you feeling?
-I feel a pinch or pull in my neck when I move my head.
-I have headaches.
-I feel tension building in my shoulders when working.
-I can’t seem to breathe fully.
Could these be the possible causes of your pain?
-Bad or uncomfortable sleep
-Sitting all day
Do the 5-finger pinch. Take all five fingers on one hand to above or below where you feel the pain and pinch that part of the muscle with all five fingers. Don’t forget your pinky. Take 3 deep breaths into the pinched area. For each breath, inhale on a slow 3 count, hold your breath for a slow 2 count, and then exhale for a regular 1 count. Doing this will create slack in the tight muscles that are creating the discomfort in and around your neck.
Once you have more room to move, mobilize with slow shoulder rolls. Keep it dynamic and take your shoulders as far up, forward, down and back. Do this 3 times in each direction. Lubricating your muscles and joints like this can also help relieve any impingement in the neck, back and shoulders.
How do you feel now? Did the level of pain change from your initial assessment?
Here’s something to keep in mind. Our world and our everyday products are designed for the forward-facing able body, which means we tend to neglect what’s going on behind us, specifically all the muscles in our back and around our shoulders. This is why we see so many hunched necks and shoulders. So, what can you do to avoid neck pain in the future? Think about your shoulder blades being pulled down your back like suspenders attached to your lower back. Keep pulling down your shoulder blades when you’re sitting, walking, standing, working out, and even lying in bed. You’ll probably forget to keep doing this at first, so this is where practice matters. Practice catching and correcting yourself as often as possible as you slowly build the muscle memory. After a while, you will feel almost no tension in your neck and your friends will start to notice your new and improved posture.
If you want to dig deeper on upper body mobility, check out Dr. Peter Attia’s article on how he healed his diagnosed torn labrum without surgery. He includes short videos on how to improve your scapular health AND he supplies a tear sheet for your reference.
Did my tips help you relieve some of your neck pain? Do you want to do the same for your low back and hips? Look out for future posts on mobility. I’ll be addressing how our daily laziness and workouts are ruining our lower body mobility.
1. Hansraj KK. Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head. Surgical Technology International. 2014;11(25):277-9.