When it comes to neck pain, it is important to not just treat the site of the pain, but to identify and address the underlying cause.
Most of the time neck pain is caused by misaligned hips, spine, and shoulders, along with a head that is stuck in the forward position due to lack of movement. As a result, the muscles of the neck and upper back tense up, which can lead to neck pain and stiffness.
Fixing the Whole Unit
This series of exercises is intended to be done in sequence and is designed to reposition the head and load-bearing joints to alleviate neck pain and stiffness. Some of the exercises might not seem to have anything to do with your neck, but they really do have everything to do with it.
All of the load-bearing joints of your body (shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles) work together as a unit. If you have neck pain, and you truly want it to go away for good, you need to get your entire body back in line, not just your neck.
As always, use your own best judgment, and if an exercise causes pain or discomfort, discontinue it immediately and go on to the next exercise.
Exercise #1: Static Back
- Lie on the floor with your legs on a chair or ottoman, with both your knees and hips at ninety degrees.
- Place your arms on the floor at either 45 degrees or shoulder level with your palms up.
This exercise will place your head in the same plane as your shoulders, and allow the muscles of your neck and upper back to release. Stay here until your back settles into the floor, typically 5-10 min.
Exercise #2: Static Extension Position
- Start on all fours, with your wrists under your shoulders, and your knees under your hips.
- Walk your hands out in front of you about six inches, then shift your body forward so your shoulders stack right over your wrists. Your hips should now be about six inches in front of your knees.
- Keep your elbows locked out straight, and allow your shoulder blades to collapse together.
- Let your head hang. It is really important to allow your neck to release here.
- Relax your stomach, and allow your low back to arch.
- Hold for 2 minutes, and don’t let your elbows bend.
This exercise may seem counterintuitive, as it is allowing your head to come forward, which is what we are trying to correct. But by allowing your head to hang, and keeping your elbows locked out while your shoulder blades collapse together, you are literally unlocking your shoulder girdle, which is most likely stuck in a protracted (forward) position. You are also repositioning your spine and hips into extension, counteracting the constant flexion they experience when you sit.
This is a challenging exercise, and you will feel a lot of work going on in your shoulders, forearms, and wrists. Hang in there. It will be worth it when it is over.
Exercise #3: Static Wall
- Lie on the floor and scoot all the way into the wall with your legs straight up it.
- If you are stiff in your hamstrings, scoot back until your tailbone rests flat on the floor.
- Pull your toes back and tighten your thighs.
- It is important for your feet to be hip-width apart and pointing straight out from the wall.
- Hold this position for 3 minutes.
In this exercise, the muscles of your neck and upper back will continue to release as your thoracic back extends against the hard surface of the floor. By keeping your thighs tight and toes pulled back, this exercise will also engage the muscles of your lower leg without interference from imbalances in the upper body.
Exercise #4: Sitting Floor
- Sit on the floor with your back up against the wall and your feet hip-width apart.
- Pull your shoulder blades together and down, tighten your thighs, and pull your toes back. Be sure that your feet stay straight. Your head should be touching the wall.
- Hold for 3 minutes.
This exercise will activate the muscles of your shoulders and upper back that will help to keep your spine and shoulders in the right place.
Exercise #5: Frog
- Lie on the floor with your feet together and your knees apart.
- Have your palms up on the floor at 45 degrees to your body.
- Just hang out here and relax for 2 minutes. Your low back will naturally arch off the floor, and you should allow that to happen.
Frog not only feels great, but also releases the muscles of your groin and inner thighs. Breathe while you are in this position, and pay close attention to what is happening to your body. You will feel the muscles of your neck, jaw, and upper back relax if you let them. Try not to chew gum or text during this exercise. Just let your body settle and adjust.