If you have a job that requires you to sit at a desk for seven or more hours or if you spend hours in your car commuting than you may be no stranger to neck and shoulder pain. Since the average head already weighs around 15 pounds, add in hours on your smartphone playing apps and you have the recipe for bad posture and a stressed neck. The neck is one of the most common areas of the body to be affected by stress both emotional and physical but luckily I have some tips to show you how to relieve stress from the neck and shoulders.
How Stress Causes Neck and Shoulder Strain?
Stress-induced pain is defined as pain that is caused by or worsened by either emotional or physical factors. An example of this can be pain caused by an injury that causes strain to the muscles in the neck. Our reaction to stress is a way to protect us from harm. But when that stress becomes chronic the problems start.
This can be chronic physical stress because you are stuck dealing with repetitive motions on your job every day. Or this can be chronic emotional stress because you are stuck dealing with difficult people or financial difficulties. This stress is what affects your neck and shoulders and here is how:
- It enlarges the blood vessels to allow faster oxygen delivery in your large muscle groups
- It causes you to clench and tighten your neck, jaw, and shoulder muscles
- It increases tension in the muscles that run across the top of your back
- It restricts the movement of your neck and shoulders
- It makes your pain worse by heightening your perception of pain
Stress isn’t always the cause of neck pain but it sure doesn’t help.Here are some common causes of neck strain:
- Poor posture or holding the neck at an awkward position – Like being hunched over at a computer
- Lifting something too heavy – overexerting your neck when lifting something too heavy like at work.
- Collision or fall – A sudden impact can jar the neck and muscles too quickly (such as whiplash)
- Repetitive motions – Doing too many things over and over can eventually lead to a strain in the neck
- Performing a new activity – Athletes are susceptible to muscle strain at the beginning of a new training season
This is just a few ways your neck or shoulders can become strained sometimes you may not even know the cause.
Tips to Relieve Stress From the Neck and Shoulders
If you are having stress-induced pain in your neck and shoulders there are some ways you can treat it at home. Here are a few tips to help you relieve some of the pain.
You ever wake up with a sprained neck? With most neck strains and sprains, taking it easy for a few days may be all you need to help those tendons heal up. Adding any more strenuous activity may cause more pain so do your best to avoid it.
Neck pain that isn’t healed by rest may be relieved by neck stretches, strengthening, and aerobic exercise. Here are a few exercises you can do even if your neck isn’t hurting.
Note: If a neck exercise feels painful, it should either be modified or discontinued. Before beginning any neck stretching or exercise program, it is advised to consult a health professional, such as a physical therapist, physiatrist, or chiropractor.
1) Neck Turns
This stretch you have probably done before, it is pretty simple and can be done anywhere.
First, take a deep breath in and on the exhale you will gently turn your head to look over your right shoulder. Inhale again and turn your head back to the center, on the exhale turn your head to look over the left shoulder. Then inhale and turn your head back to the center. This counts as a round. Do this for 3 to 4 rounds. This helps with restoring the natural range of motion in your neck muscles.
2) Standing Neck Stretch
This is a very simple stretch. In a standing position take the right hand and gently reach over and touch the left ear and gently tilt your head. Hold there for 10 to 20 seconds, then repeat and do the opposite side. This exercise stretches the sides of your neck and will help with tension that may be caused by sitting at a desk all day.
3) Seated Neck Release
This is another simple and gentle stretch that is good for targeting the sides of your neck.
Start by sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position. You can also sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Reach out your right arm so that it is next to your right knee or while in the chair extend it along the right side of the chair. Place your left hand on the top of your head and slowly tilt your head to the left and gently apply pressure to stretch your neck. If you want a deeper stretch than hold onto the right knee or the seat of the chair. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Then slowly lift up your head and repeat on the other side.
4) Behind the Back Neck Stretch
This standing stretch can be done anywhere and will offer a deep stretch on the sides of your neck.
Start by standing with your feet hip length apart and your arms on your sides. Reach both of your hands behind your back and hold onto your left wrist with your right hand. By using your right hand, gently straighten out your left arm and pull it away from you. To deepen the stretch, slowly lower your right ear toward your shoulder, Hold this for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
Ice or Heat
Ice can work as an anti-inflammatory to reduce any swelling or pain so applying ice, in the beginning, can prevent swelling from getting worse by temporarily closing small blood vessels.
After a few days, you can then alternate ice and heat. Don’t apply continuous heat because it can increase swelling.
A massage performed after ice or heat is applied may help soothe those achy muscles and spasms and reduce pain.
Since incorrect posture can cause a lot of strain on your neck and shoulders simply changing it may be the solution you need. Maybe you need a new pillow or mattress or maybe you need a better workstation to ensure your neck is aligned in a natural position. When using your smartphone trying holding it up at an eye level instead of down towards your lap.
If pain does not seem to get better after a week you should consult your health practitioner because physical therapy may be needed.
So what have we learned? There are many reasons you can cause strain to your neck including repetitive motions and lifting something too heavy. If stress is the reason, there are ways to treat the pain at home and in some cases even prevent this type of neck and shoulder pain. Remember that good posture is important and if you work or spend a lot of time at a desk or on a phone you want to make sure you keep this in mind.
Also, remember that it is better to reach for an ice pack rather than heat when dealing with neck and shoulder pain because ice reduces swelling as where heat can increase it, causing more pain. Neck stretches can be performed very easily but remember to consult with a health professional, such as a physical therapist, physiatrist, or chiropractor before beginning any stretch or exercise programs.
Have you ever had a neck strain and you used one of these remedies to help get rid of the pain? Is there a tip you use different from these? I would love to hear your experiences below!