Let's talk daily neck pain. And relieve it.
If your pain is the result of a recent injury within months of an event, or ongoing pain related to vertebrae fusion, hardware, nerve damage and other diagnoses, please continue seeing your PCP for care and referral. This article is not meant to treat or diagnose neck issues, but rather give an overview of common causes, and exacerbating habits that we as a culture have accumulated.
I have homework for you if daily neck pain (not from serious diagnosis) is affecting your quality of life.
Let's do it.
1) Pillow Talk
2) Sleeping position
3) Getting out of bed
4) Massage or Craniosacral Therapy
5) Head-forward posture and the daily exercise to come out of it
6) Sitting well, Sitting Butterfly: creating a profound foundation for the neck
7) Advanced Holism: function and holographic purpose of Heart-first posture
Pillow talk: causing your neck pain?
Your pillow should allow your neck to feel good first thing in the morning. That would mean your neck actually got the rest it needs.
If your neck pain is present upon waking, you may need a new pillow solution or you may need to give your neck different options of pillows depending on your current level of stiffness, pain or what stage of an inflammation cycle you may be in.
In most cases, its the vertebrae of the neck, not the back of the head, that need support.
The pillow should support you in the nape. When you rest, note how much your head may be held further forward than your chest bone. If its more than an inch or two, your sleeping posture is holding you in a neck-forward, or "front-loading" posture that you are likely to repeat throughout the day.
Let's shoot for a sleeping posture where the nape of the neck is fully supported, allowing the back of the head to be closer to flush with the bed, in line with the whole back.
Keep in mind: the taller / bigger the pillow is, the worse it could be making your pain.
They come fit one, fit all... but for many of us, they don't help.
Until you can find a better pillow, try the smallest pillow in your house, and curl the edge up under your neck.
Here is a list of pillows I recommend trying. They are not too expensive. Remember, each of us have a different size neck, head, and cranium weight, so keep looking if you haven't found the right one.
My favorite! I've actually never been more in love with a pillow, and my pillow that I had before this one kept me out of neck pain for 15 years until it fell apart. This. One. May. Be. It. Comes in Gentle and Firm.
This buckwheat pillow has two chambers and fully adjustable. It also comes with an organic flannel cover.
This is called the Tri-Core Excel - Firm. This one is the Tri-Core Excel - Gentle.
Another buckwheat pillow some will like. And a cervical roll, handy for acute neck spasm.
"The principle of efficiency: the body will hold the positions we are in the most for us, whether we are aware of it or not. This is body memory."
The other side of this coin is, if we train our bodies, little by little, more and more, we can create better default patterns that are good for us and we won't have to think about them.
The hours of our life sleeping count toward body memory, so let's think about sleeping position.
These suggestions are for the first moments you are calming down. Of course we do what we do in sleep. With consistant suggestions, the body may choose a better position. It happens.
Back sleeping: fantastic.
Side-sleeping: Please keep your spine and neck straight and either support your upper arm with a pillow or have the top arm resting at your hip. We want to get out of the curled-up fetal position into a position where the chest is open and the neck is long.
Stomach-sleeping: It can be problematic. If you are not having neck pain, nothing to change. If you are having neck pain and its very stiff in the morning due to stomach sleeping, I suggest you check out: Some suggestions about coming out of this habit.
Getting out of bed: an easy win!
Please roll gently to one side and push up with your arms. Sitting up straight from laying on the back will immediately tighten the front neck muscles. Its also a nice way to set the intention early in the day to notice and care for the neck. Little changes like these go a long way. We are starting a gradual process of exchanging neck-forward postures and movements to more balanced ones.
Massage Therapy, Craniosacral Therapy
Regular bodywork of some kind for a distinct window of time should be helpful in reducing distressing symptoms. Under this category is also physical therapy, acupuncture...The list starts there. The higher in severity of the symptoms the more often you may need to go, such as once a week for a month or two if necessary.
For long-standing neck pain, please also see Chronic Pain Recovery in Six Steps.
Head-forward posture, or front-loading
Observe yourself in the mirror so that you can see yourself at profile in a posture that is normal for you. Are the ears stacked in a line above the shoulders? Is the chin in front of the chest? Most of us will have our heads in front of our chest. However, for our spine, nerves, head and neck to function well, ultimately we need to work on getting our chest, or sternum, or heart to be in front of our chins, our heads.
One step at a time.
In a head-forward position, the muscles on the front of the body overpower the muscles that stabilize back.
This is natural response to the demands of most tasks in front of us. In the absence of movements and demands that are more upright our bodies get used to being forward and next thing you know, gravity starts holding us there.
And the compensation patterns start to set up.
Muscle groups in the upper body and neck that are out of balance pull the clavicles, the scapulas, or vertebrae out of proper alignment - which can causes muscle and connective tissue pain and nerve impingements.
So, stretch the front of the body - the neck and chest - and build strength in the back of the upper and middle back.
Over time, the body will learn to keep its muscles in balance.
Your neck will change with this gentle exercise.
Our body responds to the demands on it. We need to re-program balanced demands on the muscle groups supporting the neck, front to back.
We need to enlist the language of the body: frequency (how often we give the body a new demand) and dosage (dosage in this case means length of time we sustain the new demand).
Read these instructions all the way through first before trying this! Getting into it and out of it is very important.
Once or twice a day, lay on your bed so that your whole body is on the bed and only your neck and head is starting lean off the edge of the bed. You decide how much. Find out how much of your head is a gentle stretch, not so severe that you can't stand it. Its really important to come out of the stretch very carefully - gently scooching down toward your feet with the neck relaxed and supported. Then roll to the side as in #3 Getting out of bed.
If you are experiencing pain, lessen the angle of the stretch. Baby steps preferred over leaps of flexibility.
Start at 2-3 minutes at a time for a week. Move up to 5 minutes, once a day and continue for a total of 6-9 weeks. The muscles in the front of your neck will change. They have to. Consistent effort is key. If you forget or drop-off, just pick up again with full effort, no worries.