Chances are that you are reading this while hunched over a computer screen, modern-day human as you are. And chances are, you have built up a lot of tension in your neck and shoulder area after years of this behavior. In an ideal world, we'd all get weekly massages (nay, daily massages! it is an an ideal world after all) to make up for our ergonomic transgressions, but sadly, this isn't a practical approach for everyone. I've dealt with chronic neck and shoulder pain with a side of knotted tissue in my trapezius muscle (the one on top of your shoulders which extend down your upper back) for over 10 years, and whenever the going gets tough and I'm in need of a crick fix, these are the methods I turn to the most...
STRETCH IT OUT WITH THIS YOGA SEQUENCE
Shoulder Shrug - Take a deep inward breath and lift your shoulders toward your ears, taking 3 slow slow counts to raise them fully. Exhale for three counts while letting your shoulders fall back down, giving into gravity. Repeat five times.
Assisted Head Tilt / Neck Stretch - Gently lower your right ear to your right shoulder. Take your right hand over your head to your left temple and let its weight rest, deepening the stretch. You may also apply gentle pressure if it is okay for you to do so. Slowly switch sides. Repeat a few times, until you feel your muscles loosening up. If this felt okay for you, then do another round Tuck your chin toward your chest, taking three slow counts to do so. Make sure that you are isolating the movement in your neck and not rounding the upper back. This will stretch the muscles in the back of the neck. Lift your head and stretch it back, opening up your throat. Repeat three to five times.
Supported Fish Pose* - Find a support that is about 3-4 inches high, and at least 8 inches wide. You want this support to be firm, but have a little give, like a yoga block. A good option may be a thick, paperback book, or a roll pillow. You are going to lie down on this support, with it positioned just below your shoulder blades. The arms are out to the side at a 45 degree angle. Hold this position for a few minutes. You will begin to feel the weight of gravity pulling your shoulders down away from your ears. Make sure to release all muscular effort you may be exerting and let the floor just hold your entire body weight.
*I've starred the methods that work the best to relieve my pain.
There are obviously more poses that can help, but I kept it to the poses that are more on the passive side since not everyone is familiar with yoga. If you're interested in a more involved list of poses, including standing poses to help alleviate your pain, feel free to contact me and I'll most definitely reply.
LOOSEN STUCK MUSCLES WITH A ROUND OF FLUID, DYNAMIC MOVEMENT*
Regular exercise is always a smart idea for strengthening our muscles. It can also help reduce pain. However, you may have noticed that at times, you may feel more tense after going out for a run or even after completing a yoga class! If you've noticed this phenomenon yourself, you may want to round out your exercise regimen by incorporating a short bout of fluid, dynamic movement. What do I mean by fluid, dynamic movement? I mean the kind of movement involved in an air guitar jam session, or dancing to Beyonce, any movement that will loosen your body up. The science behind this is that we need to allow for the synovial fluid (the friction-reducing fluid in our joints) in our bodies to flow freely.
If we encourage the synovial fluid to flow with a loose, arrhythmic, jiggling quality, we feel that this movement releases the rigidity of the bones and the tension of the muscles.
- Wisdom of the Body Moving: An Introduction to Body-mind Centering by Linda HartleyTry it out for yourself with this short dance routine that features a lot of this type of movement.
LET HEAT DO ALL THE WORK
I feel more tightness in my neck and shoulders in the winter, and that is largely due to the fact that muscles contract when they get cold. I guess we humans are not exempt from the coefficient of thermal contraction. (nerd alert)
Applying heat to the tight area will help the muscles relax. Heat will also help clear out the lactic acid in the muscles quicker by promoting blood circulation.
Some suggestions are...
- Wear a sweater, snuggie, whatever you may have.
- Apply a heated compress to the affected area.
- Drink a warm cup of tea.
- Draw a warm bath (bonus if you add in some epsom salts) or hop in the shower.*
- Spend some time in a heated sauna or whirlpool.
TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS WITH SELF-MASSAGE*
Self-massage is the most effective and immediate way to get relief for your aches and pains. The trick to ironing out your knots is to take a nickel-sized dollop of body lotion or oil in order to make your hands glide easier across the topography of your neck and shoulder area. The added slip will make it easy to find any knots you may have in the afflicted area.
Take your left hand to your right shoulder, tilting your head slightly to the left. With the lotion, slowly run your fingers along the muscle connecting your neck to the shoulder. Use firm pressure, and a stiff hand to do this. If you find a knot, concentrate the pressure on the knot to help release it. Repeat on the other side.
Resist the urge to massage yourself for an extended period of time. If you over work the muscles, they will release too much lactic acid and you will proceed to feel sore the next day.
Thanks for reading!
Do you have any tips for stress relief?