The modern man has a modern lifestyle, and with it comes modern health problems.
Most of us would have experienced neck pain at some point in our lives. It could have been a lack of awareness of our postures, sudden movements or the effect of stress.
Over time, the pain in the neck affects how we live and may even create an irreversible effect on our bodies in the long run.
Whatever the case is, let us delve into the discussion on chronic neck pain and how you could alleviate it through some simple exercises, which could be done anytime, anywhere – on the bus, on the metro, in the elevator, by your desk.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
Think slouching in front of the laptop for hours on end, or browsing through the smartphone on the metro with the head tilted forward. Your head weighs a whopping 5 kg, supported by the body via a slender neck. Imagine the stress placed on the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones in the neck when you hold a prolonged flexion!
The neck – the cervical spine – connects the head to the trunk. The cervical spine contains seven bones arranged in a natural curve with the centre dimpled inwards. A healthy neck is supposed to arch in. Prolonged bad ergonomics causes it to straighten and lose its curve as the neck tries to compensate for your position.
Several muscles in our body exist as a pair. Favouring a side of your body could lead to stiffness or pain on the other less-used side. For instance, tilting the head on one side more than the other.
Sudden actions while exercising or holding on to an asana could pull on the muscles or tendons. You may sprain the neck from repeated physical activity too. Before you try out any new exercises, always remember to warm up. Do as far as your body allows, and try not to over-exert the body. Be gradual and work with less haste.
Stress affects the nervous system and causes the body to tense up. Experiencing stress is akin to the fight-or-flight response back in the days when humans ran from predators. Your shoulders shoot up to your ears, you hunker down, and the breathing becomes shallow. Unlike our ancestors, however, some of us might be holding on to the stress response for a long time – for weeks or even years. Without ways to mediate stress, the neck and shoulders tighten and unnecessary tension courses through the body.
As you grow old, the body degenerates. Accumulative pressure from stress, bad posture, and bodily decline worsen the pain. Working towards improving your health does wonders to the body, but always seek professional opinions if the pain is severe before trying new routines.
Here are some easy exercises that you can do anytime and anywhere to counter neck pain. You could do these exercises while seated or standing. What we are trying to achieve here is to maintain the full range of motion of the neck.
Lateral Flexion of the Neck
Begin by tilting your head, and bring your ear close to the shoulder. Hold this for 3 – 5 breaths. Alternatively, you could hold onto the head to accentuate the stretch. Switch to the other side.
Rotation of the Neck
Begin by turning the head to the right, and hold for 3 – 5 breaths. Switch side. Next, turn your head up and look at the top without elevating your shoulders up. Hold here for 3 – 5 breaths. Tilt the head forward without moving the body and gaze at your navel. Hold this for 3 – 5 breaths. Finally, round this exercise up by rotating the neck in a circular motion first clockwise three times, then anticlockwise three times.
Strain in the shoulder sometimes translates as pain in the neck. Stretching the shoulders might just reduce the tension around this area. You could do this while seated or standing.
Begin by elevating your shoulders up, close to your ears. Hold here for 3 – 5 breaths. Then depress your shoulders down, and hold this for 3 – 5 breaths. Next, following the actions you have just done, combine them to form a circular loop, first by drawing the shoulders up, then forward, down, backwards, and finally up. Do this three times. Reverse the order.
Protract and Retract
Most people tend to hunch either from work or bad sitting and standing posture. Hunching affects the breathing capacity and also strains the neck.
Start this exercise by first interlacing your fingers and lifting the arms in front of you. As you exhale, push the interlace hands as far away as possible, feeling the stretch behind your back. This is protraction of the shoulder blades.
Next, as you inhale, open your arms by the side with elbows flexed and hands pointing up like a cactus or ‘surrender’ and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Feel the stretch across your chest and savour the chest expansion as you breathe in. This is retraction of the shoulder blades.
Do retraction often enough to counter the hunch and open the chest. Do protraction to stretch the back muscles.
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And there you have it! Do these simple exercises whenever you feel tired and notice the positive changes they will make to your day. As you regain your mobility, why not challenge yourself with more advanced poses by enrolling in a yoga class?