If you’re like me, you’ve already done many things to relieve neck pain that actually cause damage over time. Much of our neck pain is is preventable, once we understand the causes. We, then, need to discover our specific needs, take actions to prevent the damage and set up an exercise routine to help prevent damage from unavoidable neck stresses. Read on to learn neck pain usually isn’t as difficult or complicated as it seems.
Understanding Neck Pain: The neck carries all the nerve signals, nutrients and air that our bodies need to function, and all the blood for our brains to function. This is why the first thing we all need to know about our necks, is not to do anything without consulting a doctor…especially if we’re already feeling pain. Because the neck carries all the nerve signals for our bodies, neck pain can be felt in our shoulders, arms, hands, abdomen, legs, feet, and…um…neck.
The pain can be caused by muscle strain, emotional stress, bad dreams, sneezing, coughing, cold, flu, swollen glands, thyroid diseases, tonsils, computer work, fractures from osteoporosis or injury, meningitis, encephalitis, some cancers, etc. See why a doctor might come in handy if you’re feeling neck pain? Most often, it’s simple muscle strain or stress, so don’t think it’s one of those exotic diseases. Of course, doing anything more than taking over-the-counter medicine for neck pain may cause more damage.
Preventing Neck Damage: I was one of those silly teenagers who learned to relieve neck stiffness by “cracking” my neck as one would pop a joint that got stiff. While this temporarily relieves pain, it can cause a fracture immediately and, over time, causes osteoarthritis. I get a lot of different neck pains, now, because i treated stress as though it was my neck out of joint. Neck damage can come from an auto accident or fall, lifting or straining other muscles, or something as simple as a sneeze. Obviously, follow lifting and other safety precautions to neck injuries when possible.
Safe Exercise For The Neck: When it isn’t possible to avoid neck strains, it’s possible to reduce the risk of injury by strengthening the neck. The head is extremely heavy, and has only the neck to hold it up. By strengthening the neck muscles, we can significantly reduce chance of neck injury. Of course, just like other areas, to prevent injury, see your doctor before entering into a neck exercise program. All programs must begin gradually and very slowly build up…especially neck exercise.
- Thumb Pushes: This is an exercise where you sit in a straight-back chair and push on your head with your thumb, while opposing that pressure with your neck muscles. Push five minutes (start with 30 seconds) in one direction, then in another, until you’ve circled the head (30-40 min. total). This is easy to do while watching TV, reading or talking on the phone. If it hurts where your thumb contacts your head, you’re pushing too hard.
- Head Weight: This is one to do very slowly and cautiously, with no extra muscles pushing in the direction the head is moving. While standing or sitting in a straight-backed chair, slowly lower your head to one shoulder, then slowly raise it and lower it to the other shoulder. Do the same thing front and back (don’t push with your muscles). After doing this once, lower your head to one shoulder, then “roll it around” slowly in a kind of droopy circle (don’t push). Build up from one of these a day to 10-20. Never do this if it’s painful.
Shoulder Roll: While standing with your feet pointing in the same direction, a natural distance apart, your head straight up and arms straight down at your sides, roll your shoulders forward four times and back four times, using pressure with your shoulder muscles. Build up to repeating these 10-20 times a day. This is very effective at work, to relieve stress from deadlines, computers, co-workers, etc.
Stretching: After any of these exercises, stretch your neck and upper back muscles before resuming normal activity. In the same stance as 3. above, slowly relax your neck from top to bottom, allowing your head to roll forward. Let your arms move forward as you continue relaxing your upper back to just below the shoulder blades. Do not bend over but let your head and shoulders slump forward. Without forcing it with any muscles, just let yourself hang there for 30 seconds, then slowly straighten up from middle back to head.
If you get any sharp neck or back pain while doing any of these, see a doctor. If you get muscle pain a day or two afterward, you’re pushing the muscles or progressing too fast in your routine. When you’re exercising at the right pace, all you should feel over time is a little toning of the neck and shoulder muscles.
The neck, just like other areas of the body, can be strengthened, to reduce injury provide better fitness. Obviously, this is no miracle system. We’re not going to get immediate relief of neck pain from exercise. What you can get over time is less injuries and less frequency of neck pain, a stronger posture, better stamina for work and a better ability to handle physical and psychological stress. I think that’s quite a lot from a few simple exercise.