One of the most common complaints I see in my clinic is tension in the neck and across the upper back or shoulder area. For that reason, I have decided to give you some ammo on how to combat this hindrance yourself. There are a few main reasons why this tension lingers in this area.
1. Posture. Sitting at a desk or computer for more than an hour at a time without moving is one of the main causes of chronic neck and shoulder tension. The key reason for this is because of the poorly-designed ergonomic positioning of your workspace. Improper body mechanics set in quickly here, causing the chin to jut forward and the muscles in the back of your neck to shorten. This not only leads to joint and muscular pain, but headaches as well.
Take the time to stretch at least every half hour by placing one hand under the seat of your chair to keep your shoulder pulled down, and gently tip your head toward the opposite shoulder with your other hand. Repeat on the other side and then stretch the back of your neck by pulling your chin to your chest. Make sure to hold each stretch for at least 15 seconds.
Whatever you do, steer clear of cradling the phone between your head and shoulder! Take the time to have your workstation checked ergonomically; it will save you many years of spinal trouble. Also, while sitting, standing or walking, concentrate on holding your chin in and your shoulders back (with your head centered over your spine).
2. Fashion. Okay ladies, I’m talking mostly about us here. High-heeled shoes are a major culprit in changing the biomechanics of your spine. Not only do they increase the curvature in your lower back, but the end result is shortened muscles and ligaments in your neck and shoulders! Save them for very special occasions.
Purses are another offender…you know who you are…Mrs. “I keep my whole life in my purse.” Even if you carry a lighter purse, you are at high risk for asymmetry (lengthening of muscles and ligaments on one side of the spine, and shortening on the other). Just make sure you carry only the bare essentials in your purse, and switch the carrying side often.
Last but not least–improperly fitting bras. Did you know that 60 percent of women report that their bras cause them pain in their shoulders, neck or back? Here’s the deal–if your bra doesn’t fit right, the weight of your chest is transferred from the lower chest directly to your neck and shoulders. This causes your shoulders to slump forward, your head/chin to jut forward, and pretty soon can lead to kyphosis (aka the hump-back). Guess what, you’re worth it…head to Victoria’s Secret and have someone properly measure you.
3. Sleep. First and foremost, avoid sleeping on your stomach at all costs! In this position, the vertebrae in your neck are twisted to one side causing extreme stress to the cervical spinal nerves, which not only leads to vertebral misalignment, muscle hypertension and chronic pain, but can actually damage the nerves exiting the vertebrae.
The nerves in your neck have many jobs, from the movement of your hands and fingers all the way to keep- ing your sinuses working properly, so take care of them. Sleep on your side or your back, and make sure that the pillow you are using fills in the curvature of your neck. Your pillow should also keep your head in perfect alignment with the rest of your spine. If it is too fluffy or too flat, your muscles, ligaments and nerves are once again at risk. If you don’t have a “cervical” pillow, try rolling up a small towel and placing it inside your pillow case to make a support ridge for your neck.
Adding stress to anything mentioned above drastically compounds the problem. It is truly important to find ways to alleviate, or at least decrease, your stress level. (We’ll save that for another article). Just making the changes above will greatly reduce the tension created in your neck and shoulders.
If you struggle with anything more than tension, such as tingling in the hands/fingers, chronic headaches, or pain, don’t wait. Have your spinal column checked and get the problem fixed. You will risk feeling healthy later in life by covering up the pain with over-the-counter medications.