Stiff neck. Limited range of motion. Pain upon waking up in your upper back and shoulders. Whether your discomfort is from the residual effects of an accident or from chronic stiffness over the years, neck pain and discomfort have a way of meddling their way into many aspects of life.
And, if you’ve grown used to managing neck pain on a day-to-day basis, chances are that you have gotten in the routine of stretching, particularly in the morning. We’re here to give you a public service announcement that may surprise you: stretching may not actually be the best plan of action.
What?! How could this be? And, what if you feel like you’re actually getting relief from stretching?
To be clear, we’re not saying that you have to completely cut stretching out of your routine; rather, stretching alone won’t get you where you want to be ultimate— pain-free. Let’s dive into what happens when you stretch the neck and your treatment options to help with ongoing neck pain. Ready to begin?
What’s The Deal With Neck Pain And Stretching?
We get it: you feel pain and stiffness, and the natural reaction is to try stretching. It probably even feels good in the moment! However, one of the key components to understand is the relationship between pain and mobility.
What you’re feeling as pain in your neck and upper shoulders (your cervical spine) may actually be too much mobility in your neck and upper back areas. The job of our neck is to house and protect layers upon layers of nerves, muscles, tissue, as well as the top of our spinal column. After all, there’s a lot to keep safe!
As a result of the neck’s important protective mechanism, one of its key features is to tense up when there is perceived danger – and that includes when it feels that stability is in danger. If your neck is a bit hyper-mobile, your body may actually sense this as an acute danger and go into protection mode, i.e. tensing up.
So, while stretching may feel good at the moment as a quick fix, it’s certainly easy to overdo it. That’s also why if neck stability is an underlying issue already, constant stretching could actually compromise this stability even more. In other words, stretching can perpetuate the problem instead of solving it. Obviously, this is not what you want.
But, don’t fret. There are some great at-home options to get you on your way to regain some of that necessary stability in your neck. And, we’ll even let you work in some light stretching as a part of your recovery program.
The Role Of Stability Versus Mobility
As we look to treat ongoing neck pain, it’s important to make sure that we take care of stability first and foremost. Treating stability means amping up your strength. Once you strengthen the muscles surrounding and supporting the neck, many of those smaller muscles within the neck lessen their grip a bit, thereby reducing your chronic stiffness.
Again, while we’ll go over some light stretching options, the combination is key— always incorporate a strength component to counteract the stretching. We want strength AND mobility-– not just mobility!
At-Home Exercises For Neck Pain
We’ve compiled a great set of starting exercises to help those managing neck pain. As we mentioned, we’re addressing stability first and foremost, while taking care not to neglect mobility. Use the exercises below as a starting point to ease your neck and shoulders into healing stability work.
This exercise can be done while either standing or sitting. You’ll begin by raising your shoulders up towards your ears and then rotating them backward in a circular motion. Repeat this motion slowly and deliberately up to 10 times before switching the direction of your circles. This is a motion that can actually increase stability while providing a gentle stretch of the lower neck area.
Don’t worry – when we say resistance, we’re not talking about heavy lifting! Some gentle resistance is a good thing, especially when trying to build strength. When incorporating resistance within a rehabilitation routine, it’s best to start light.
For this resistance work, we just want you to use your hands. Start by placing your left hand, palm side down, above your ear on the side of your head. Gently push your head into that left hand for a count of 1-3 seconds before returning to neutral. Repeat this up to 5 times on each side of your head.
Start this exercise by lying on your back on the floor. Bend your knees far enough to let your feet lie flat. Slowly lift your head forward, hold for 1-3 seconds at the end range of motion, and lower back down to the floor. Repeat up to 10 times.
Rotate to your side, and repeat the slow, controlled lifting motions, this time lifting your head in the direction of your shoulder. Again, do up to 10 repetitions on both sides.
Lastly, lay on your stomach with your head facing the floor. Slowly lift your head back toward your shoulder blades and lower down, repeating for another 10 repetitions.
Here’s where we let a little of that stretch back in! While sitting in a neutral position, slowly tilt your head toward one shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds before returning your head to neutral, then repeat on the other side. Move between this back and forth motion up to 5 times. You can repeat this same motion in the forward and backward planes as well. With this stretch, it’s important not to take the stretch too far. Remember that you’re aiming for a gentle stretch, not an aggressive one!
With all of these exercises, use pain as a guide. If pain increases, stop immediately. It’s always best to start an exercise plan with oversight from a medical professional, to make sure that you’re progressing appropriately and not missing anything direr.
The Role Of Chiropractic Care In Treating Neck Pain
Chiropractic care, in general, is a great way to stay on top of overall health and wellness but can be invaluable when treating a pain cycle, especially in the neck and shoulder area. The gentle adjustments of the neck, spine, and extremities help to realign the body and provide relief to the entire system. These adjustments also serve to decrease inflammation, relieve pressure, reduce nerve irritability, combat pain signals, and ultimately allow the entire body and immune system to communicate and function better. When it comes to neck pain, the relief from these adjustments can be crucial components in the healing process.
Additionally, a practitioner can specifically address aches and pains as they crop up to get to the root of the problem – that means treating the cause, not just your symptoms! It will also help cut down on your healing time. This can prove to be an incredibly valuable piece of support as you work toward overall health.
It’s time to bid neck pain goodbye. Schedule an appointment online or call (949) 649-8790.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.