Whether you slept in a funky position or have been staring tensely at your computer for hours on end, a crick in the neck is not only annoying, it can cause headaches and upper back pain. After a long, hot shower to loosen the muscles, try a few of these stretches for a little relief.
Crunches may be effective for toning your abs, but the exercise can also create some uncomfortable neck strain. Here are two neck-friendly ab moves where you use your arms to support your entire torso, not just your head. When done correctly, the exercises target the deepest part of the abdominal wall, which keeps the core taut. Try them at home; here's how.
- Start by sitting up with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Pull your abs toward your spine as you roll backward until your elbows make contact with the ground.
- From this position, tuck your hips so your lower back connects with the ground. Squeeze your shoulder blades together lifting your head nice and tall. You are now ready to begin.
Exercise One: Single-Leg Flexes
- Extend one leg toward the sky and flex that foot.
- Begin to bend and straighten your leg in the air; exhale sharply and contract your abs as you push through your flexed heel to straighten your knee. Complete 10-15 reps.
- Do press your shoulders down, away from your ears to keep your neck relaxed.
- For added bonus: Extend and straighten your bottom leg so it is parallel to the floor and hovering off the ground a couple of inches.
Learn the second move when you read more.
You can't go to a yoga class without the instructor leading you into the basic pose Triangle. This standing posture increases flexibility in your hamstrings, opens tight hips, and elongates the spine, but if this pose causes you discomfort or pain, here are some tips for relief.
Neck or Shoulder Pain:
Triangle pose is a subtle spinal twist, and gazing up at your lifted hand can cause major neck or shoulder pain, especially if you find twisting a challenge. I have a trick to help, but first you need to release all the tension from this area by shrugging your shoulders toward your ears, then actively releasing them toward your hips. Once your neck is relaxed, pull your hands away from each other and extend the crown of your head to take pressure off your neck. If you're still experiencing neck pain, turn your head and gaze at your bottom hand. If your shoulders still hurt, rest your lifted arm on your torso, or wrap it around your lower back to feel a nice opening in the chest.
To learn how to avoid leg or wrist pain when doing Triangle pose, keep reading.
Reduce Shoulder Tension
Tight shoulders often translate into a tight neck. One particular culprit in this equation is the trapezius muscle (learn more about the trapezius here). This muscle covers a triangle-shaped area in the upper back starting at the bottom of the shoulder blade, running out to the shoulder joint, then narrowing to climb the side of your neck. When the upper part of the trapezius is tight, your spine can feel compressed. A quick, desk-friendly remedy to release built-up tension is shrugging your shoulders in an exaggerated fashion: inhale and raise your shoulders to your ears and exhale letting them fall — really give into gravity and let your shoulders drop. Repeat this action four to five times. Follow it up with a self-massage: use your opposite hand to squeeze this muscle just like you would a wet sponge. Imagine you're wringing out the tension with each squeeze.
Create Some Motion
Stiff necks crave a little motion. I'm not suggesting headbanging to your fave Iron Maiden jam, but doing subtle neck stretches will certainly help. Swaying your head slowly from side to side can help ease tension through your neck. Make a half circle with your skull by bringing your right ear to your right shoulder, then roll the head forward bringing your chin to your chest, continue to the left bringing the left ear to your left shoulder. Reverse directions, dropping your chin and rolling your head to the right. Repeat a few times in each directions. I suggest doing this stretch throughout the day to prevent stiffness before it starts.
Learn one more way to relax your neck when you keep reading.
I recently went under general anesthesia for a cervical facet block. Now my sense of taste is very dulled out, even the taste of a peppermint is very bland. Is there any reason for this, and is it long-term?
— Missing Taste
This concern over the loss of taste after having a cervical facet block (a treatment for neck pain discussed later in the column) is an appropriate concern to have. However, I must stress to the reader and to whomever is reading this column, that any time you have concerning symptoms, especially after a medical procedure, the best and safest way to get an answer about what could be going on is to discuss your symptoms and concerns with the physician who is taking care of you and who performed the procedure. I cannot answer the original reader’s question, as I have no knowledge of his/her medical history, why he/she received a cervical facet block, and am unable to do a physical exam on him/her. I urge the reader who sent this question to call the physician who performed the procedure as soon as possible to inform them of their symptoms after the procedure, so that appropriate medical evaluation and workup can be performed.
For more information on neck pain, keep on reading.
First: Stand at a wall with your heels, booty, shoulder blades, and back of your head against the wall. Now adjust your skull so your eyes are looking straight forward without having to move your eyeballs downward; think of the skull pivoting backward on the axis of the spine to do this.This might feel a bit weird, but should give you a sense of how forward your head actually is. Stay there for about 30 seconds and think about lengthening your spine and opening your chest.
Learn my second suggestion when you read more
When I'm working at my computer all day, I can feel the tension building up in my neck and shoulders. Throughout the day, I try to remember to take breaks to get up and walk around, but this seated neck stretch really does wonders.
For details on how to feel this delicious neck release, and ways to feel a deeper stretch, read more
Though this is only a preliminary study, the research shows that the same neck and shoulder discomfort seen in working adults is now being seen in college students between the ages of 18 and 21, specifically males. Judith Gold, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Temple University’s College of Health Professions and Social Work, says of the study's findings, "What we’ve seen so far is very similar to what we see with office workers who’ve spent most of their time at a computer. The way the body is positioned for texting — stationary shoulders and back with rapidly moving fingers — is similar to the position for typing on a computer."
Interestingly enough, the study didn't point to any texting-caused discomfort in the arms and wrists, but stay tuned — Gold says the research is just underway and further studies are likely to deliver more conclusive answers on whether this is all text-attributable neck tension.
I'm all about the holiday season, and I love giving gifts that my friends can actually use. With that in mind, I've decided to replicate my homemade neck wrap, and give the gift of easy relaxation to all my friends.
Making your own at home is super easy and inexpensive —plus your friends will love using the wrap to unwind. All you need is a sock (preferably a longer, knee sock, but most will stretch out), a bag of rice, and lavender or eucalyptus oil, or dried, if you prefer, and some ribbon and note cards (optional for decorating). To learn how to make your own great gift, just keep reading