If you experience stiff neck, regular headaches or neck pain, this mobility exercise will help improve this fast.
A stiff neck and tight shoulders are a very real problem for desk workers (plus new moms and others that do a lot of lifting) and people can put up with this for years!
Posture and Tight Neck and Shoulders
This basically happens because we assume a posture where our backs are rounded out and our shoulder roll forward. This causes the muscles running from the top of your shoulder to your neck to be put under a lot of tension and stress causing then to get knotty, weak and angry from overworking – causing you to feel pain, stiffness and headaches.
Mobility Exercise to alleviate Tight Neck and Shoulders
See the video for a simple demo if how to loosen up your stiff neck or check out this link for more info and this link for more info on headaches and how to fix them.
Try do this mobility exercise daily for two weeks and notice the difference. Your stiff neck will thank you!
Everyone gets tight neck and shoulders, whether you are an athlete, office worker or new-mum and this easy myofascial release will give you huge relief!
How does this Myofascial Release of the neck help?
By using gentle pressure on trigger points or using long flowing stretching strokes helps release myofascial pain. This when applied to tight neck and or shoulders helps relieve the pain and increase mobility.
Ease neck and shoulder tension
Improve shoulder range
Make you more upright
The best of all, it will just make you feel great!
The upper trapezius (traps) knot up very regularly and cause you to feel tight, hunched over and can often cause stress and tension headaches. All you need is a firm massage ball and do the following exercise for a great myofascial release:
Lie on your back with your knees bent up and place the ball under your upper traps as shown. You will be able to feel the knots and tight muscles through this area (they will feel harder, often tender and like a marble or golf ball).
Next bring your arm up and back towards the ground and then oscillate it up and down (grind it!).
Tip: If you do not feel it much, lift your bottom off the ground and put all your weight through the ball.
This is a fantastic technique and once you have tried you will see what I mean! For the is best results and long-lasting relief, do this every evening or as a break at work.
This myofascial release is great to combine with a couple of other things that will combine to create a long-term fix! It is important to look at the muscles (which we are doing here) AND the joints, so try out this easy spinal self-mobilization or this back stretch your mobility.
In this post I want to give you the tools to lay the foundations of a functional and stable, pain free neck. As with all spinal rehabilitation and retraining, there are important aspects that have to be addressed in order to achieve the end result of decreased neck pain and increased movement.
Make sure to check out my post on beating headaches arising from a tight and sore neck.
The first is kinesthetic training. This, in a nutshell, is gaining a better awareness of safe spinal movement and the neutral spine position. This is an important initial building block for the neck because, as mentioned earlier, when in pain we tend to lose proper feeling in the neck and in turn lose control of the stabilising muscles. This leads to unknowingly holding your head in a bad position (and so more neck pain!).
So first we need to discuss the neutral spinal position for the head and neck.
As you can see in the picture above, the image on the left is in neutral spinal position, still maintaining gentle curves. Now the image on the right has a typical poor posture of the upper back and neck, with their head jutting forward and their back rounded out. Just remember a good spinal position is not having your spine as straight as a pole or forcing yourself bolt upright!
1.1. Double chin
The first technique we will do is head retractions (I find calling it Double chins makes it far easier to remember). A great way to visualize this exercise is thinking about giving yourself an extra chin, as it has this effect when performed. To do this it is important to keep looking forward while bringing your head backward, making sure not to tilt your head down (it may help to put a finger on your chin to guide your head back).
Hold this position for 5 seconds 5 times. This can be done little and often throughout the day
Now this is an extreme of the position and we do not need to have a head this far back all the time! Rest assured.
1.2 Keeping moving
The second easy exercise to start doing is turning nods. This exercise is to start functionally working the core muscles of your neck and help them start feeling normal again. This is a fantastic exercise for neck pain and while at times it may feel like it isn’t doing much, believe me it works wonders on sore necks and headaches, allowing improved neck function and more feeling into the neck.
The added bonus is that it makes you keep the neck moving because as I’m sure you know when in pain we tend to stiffen up and this is not what we want at all.
Turning nods: This involves turning your head to each side and performing 3 nods on each side. These nods need to be small so that you are just moving your head on your neck. An important thing to remember with these exercises is do not push into pain! Also for some people this can feel like an awkward movement to do or you may struggle to do the small nods – persevere and they will get better, this just shows that the muscles really are weak and lack control. This awesome exercise takes no time at all and can be done little and often throughout the day.
The second aspect is muscle re-training, you can move on to this as early as you like, progressing on as it gets easier.
The specific muscles that we want to retrain are the Deep Neck Flexors.
2. Chin tuck
The best and most used exercise is the chin tuck, which provides the basis for neck stabilization This exercise can be done in numerous positions, including lying on your back, tummy, in four point kneeling and standing. BUT there are progressions to this exercise and you want to make sure you have each stage down before you move on.
Initial position for learning the chin tuck: lying on your back, knees bent with a towel rolled up under your head as shown so that the thickest part is under the base of your head.
Action: Tuck your chin in causing a fattening of the neck and a downward pressure to be applied to the rolled towel at the base of your neck.
How much? Begin with 10×3 second holds and progress to 10×10 seconds – 2 sets of these twice daily.
place your tongue on the top of your mouth and keep your teeth apart. This will help relax the jaw and only utilise the muscles we want, deep in your neck.
Do not force this exercise, it needs to be gentle
Quality over quantity – keep it nice and slow and control it!
Chin Tuck progression:
Once you have mastered the chin tuck in lying and you can do it easily in a smooth motion without tensing your jaw, then you are ready to move on and do this exercise in the other positions. I recommend progressing to four point kneeling first as this will give you great feedback having to work against gravity. You can also do the exercise in front lying and standing.
The third aspect is unloading the neck by stretching tight muscles:
3. Arm pit stretch: This is a great stretch to unload your neck and shoulder. I call it this as you are pulling your head towards your armpit!
Hold this for at 1 minute and perform 3 times daily. To get a better stretch it may help to hold on to a bench or table with the opposite hand to stop the shoulder rising up.
4. Ear to shoulder: Keep your head looking forward and this time pull your head towards your shoulder and hold for 1 minute also 3x daily.
– Double chins
– Turning nods
– Chin tucks
– Arm-pit stretch
– Ear to shoulder stretch
These exercises absolutely don’t take long and can be done LITTLE AND OFTEN throughout the day.
Be sure to keep and eye out for an upcoming post on postural correction for some great self mobilization and correction techniques you can do at home and also my recent post on Self Trigger Pointing.
By whatever name you want to call them, tension, stress or cervicogenic Headaches are a huge problem in today’s high demand, high stress world. Here you will find out what your headaches are caused by and most importantly how YOU can improve and get rid of headaches drug-free!
Many have headaches as a common occurrence, simply cannot get rid and have learnt to live with them and for the majority of headaches sufferers, this simply should not and does not need to be the case. This is because a common cause of headaches is the sub-occipital muscles of the cervical spine which in simpler terms are the muscles right at the base of the skull.
And here’s the kicker – THIS CAN BE TREATED.
These headaches are called Cervicogenic headaches, also commonly known as tension headaches. The pain is experienced in the forehead, temples, around the eyes and often gets worse with prolonged postures, stress and neck pain.
Starting to sound familiar? If so read on!
How do these muscles cause headaches?
The pain is essentially caused by trigger points in the muscle referring pain to different points on the head. These are caused by a number of things, including the following, and often not by one factor in isolation.
The main causes of the trigger points are:
Poor posture: poor posture causes a lot of stress on the posterior structures of the upper neck. Poor posture causes a forward head posture, which closes down of the joints of the upper spine, in turn putting stress on the supporting muscle to hold the head up while out of alignment. This stress causes the sub-occipital muscles to tighten up in order to protect the joints, which if maintained this can cause trigger points and chronic pain.
Stress: when under stress, from any source then you tend to tense up your shoulders, raise your shoulder blades and tense up at the back of your neck causing a forward head posture and over activation of you global muscles. Along with this, the chemical make up in your body changes.
Sports: sports that need a lot of hyper-extension such as diving and climbing and also sports that can injure and put pressure on the neck as these actions close down the joints at the back of your neck and cause muscle guarding and increased tension. Contact sports such as football and rugby also cause jarring and injury which can lead to headaches.
Spinal injury – such as whiplash.
Degenerative spinal disease and arthritis. These diseases cause breakdown of joint surfaces and extra bone growth causing a lot of pain and irritation. Because of this the surrounding muscles tense up to try and protect the joints, this leads to knots in the surrounding muscles which no longer function properly and can cause pain themselves.
Once trigger points are formed and you have the headaches that go untreated then often they stick around due to decreasing muscle function, with a number of factors having effect:
When the sub-occipital muscles tighten and form trigger points, if left untreated, these form a cycle of decreasing muscle function. The trigger points and tight muscles decrease the blood getting into these muscles leading to tighter muscles and more pain.
The second major problem which adds to this cycle is loss of feeling in the neck. When in pain, the proprioceptors in the neck are inhibited, these receptors relay information to your brain, telling you where your body is in space. Due to pain and tightness, the receptors can no longer effectively sense if your head is in the correct position and this leads to worse neck posture and also decreased movement due to trying to protect the area.
The third point that adds to this cycle just like in low back pain is loss of activation of the deep stabilising muscles. The deep neck flexors are the core of your neck and in pain disorders these stabilising muscles show decreased muscle control and endurance. This leads to less stabilisation which in turn causes large global muscles such as your upper traps and levator scapulae to take of and be a nuisance.
So how do you know if you are getting cervical headaches and not migraines? Here is a quick reference table in oreder to help differentiate between tension headaches and migraines.
Effectiveness of pain killers
Described as an attack
Effect of migraine drugs
Family history related
Some neck tenderness or stiffness
Quick test: The most significant test I use in practice everyday (if the above matches) is palpation of the offending muscles.
You can do this by feeling the sub-occipital muscles with your index finger, with the middle finger on top of it for support. Push into the muscles gently and massage(with reasonable force) around the muscles at the base of your skull. When you come across a part of the muscles which feels harder, lumpier of slightly painful, stay there and increase the pressure – if the pain from this refers into the head similar to the headaches you get, then this is most likely a major cause or contributor of your headaches and CAN BE TREATED.
How are cervical headaches treated?
These headaches can be treated very effectively by a Physiotherapist, the aim of treatment is to:
Relax the muscles, mobilize the joints.
Increase muscle stabilization.
Treat the causative factor if possible, such as poor posture or stress.
But as always I want you to help your self and be as independent as a possible! In subsequent posts I will let you in on how to get rid of headaches at home:
See my posts on these techniques and if you really stick to the above three points and give them a good try, then you will achieve awesome results. Why live with the pain and discomfort if you can do something about it as easy as this. Even spending 10-20 minutes each day doing these self treatments will help! Try it for 6 weeks and you will be sleeping well again. You can more in depth knowledge from the experts and access to a full rehab plan at Headache Proof Me.
Let me know how you get on!
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