Neck Stiffness and Headaches... Made Simple

What is neck pain?

First off, we need to start off with what the neck is made of structurally. The neck itself comprises 7 vertebrae with a massive number of nerves and muscles around the area that are essential to position your head correctly for everyday life and provide nerve supply to your upper body. So why is it that neck pain is so common with the everyday person?

What happens with the neck?

First off, most of the working population spend an excessive amount of time in seated postures at a desk. This in turns places our necks and their joints in prolonged static postures, which is not what the body was designed for. Additionally, with the pressures of jobs and lifestyle stressors, increased levels of mental stress can transfer over into physical stress to the body. Essentially, when our stress levels begin to rise due to personal or work related matters, our nervous system sends a different array of signals from what is called the “sympathetic nervous system”. Excessive sympathetic stimulation is our natural fight or flight response. Too much of this results in high levels of the stress hormone cortisol being released. Over the course of prolonged periods, this leads to a change in breathing patterns, and we begin to recruit more “upper chest breathing” rather than slow and controlled breathing patterns from the lower belly. All the excessive sympathetic stimulation in turn leads to growing tension around the neck muscles from these static postures, chronic poor breathing patterns and changes in hormone releases.

Now there are many other factors that can also contribute to growing neck tension and issues, but what is most commonly seen as driving factors that lead to pain are the scenarios discussed above.

So, what can you do about it to fix this and reduce the chance of dealing with complex neck pain?

How to fix it?

As we already discussed, neck pain can be the result of many physical and lifestyle factors. So working with a physio to identify which of those factors are contributing to your situation can be a very helpful start to simplify the process. However there are many things that are quick and simple that you can implement yourself to start to make positive changes. Awareness of the stressful factors would be an effective way to start to manage the neck pain. Working through managing and controlling excessive stress will help reduce the constant sympathetic stimulation.

Sitting is a massive factor as well for driving neck issues. Prolonged sitting usually leads to the head being placed in a poor position. Over time, constant poor positions of the head and neck will lead to reduced blood flow to certain muscles and uneven pressure on different parts of the neck joints. Long-term, there is a large network of nerves around the neck referred to as the “brachial plexus” that can become more sensitive with increased tension of the neck. Sitting down with a physio can help simplify this screening process and give you a clearer picture of what's needed next to help relieve your pain fast.

Neck exercises can help to reduce muscle tension and reduce pain/stiffness around the area. Here are 3 simple exercises to try out if you’re struggling with neck pain:

1. Neck CARs

  1. Brace full body tension

  2. Only aim to move the neck through a full circle of range of motion

  3. Spend more time on the end-ranges of the movement i.e. “sticky points”

2. Seated neck stretch

  1. Rotating the neck to the opposite side of where you feel the tension

  2. Using your hands as pictured below take your head and neck as far as possible as you comfortably can tolerate

  3. Hold the stretch for 1 - 2 min and then repeat on the other side

  4. Aim to perform once an hour during prolonged periods of sitting

3. Scapula CARs

  1. Reaching your hand behind your back, aiming to rest the hand on the lower back in a somewhat comfortable position

  2. Aim for the shoulder to come inwards so that your hand makes a right angle as pictured below

  3. Slowly elevate your shoulder blade as high as you can, then push your shoulder blade forwards, downwards and then take it backwards. This can feel quite novel if it is your first time moving your shoulder blade through full range. Record yourself and practice

Book an appointment with us today if you’d like to sit down with us.