You don’t realize how important your neck is to your overall health until something happens that puts it in constant pain. Whether it is an achy feeling, burning sensation or it feels as if someone is stabbing you with daggers, it can make your everyday activities a nightmare.
Something as simple as watching your child participate in sports, or even watching the television for that matter, can strain your neck and can leave you wincing in pain. That’s not to mention that taking care of household chores and obligations, like washing the car or raking the leaves, can leave your neck muscles in even more agony.
If you work a desk job and spend a lot of time in a stationary position, this feeling not only threatens your happiness and feelings of well-being, but also your livelihood. Your ability to provide for yourself and your family is contingent upon your ability to do your job, so if you’re having difficulty sitting all day then certainly you’re going to feel it all the way around.
What’s the problem?
Although your neck is a relatively small part of your body, the muscles in it can wreak a lot of havoc for you if they act up. One muscle in particular, your levator scapulae, is often the biggest culprit when it comes to neck soreness and pain.
The levator scapulae muscle is located on the back and sides of your neck. It starts at your top four vertebrates and extends down to the top of your scapula, or the top of bone that you can feel protruding at the back of your shoulder area.
Although it is just one of the roughly 640 skeletal muscles in the human body, it has a very important function. It allows you to bend your neck in various directions, which is extremely important in most anything you do. (If you’ve ever had the experience of wearing a neck brace, you understand what it’s like to lose this all important mobility.)
Also, when your levator scapulae are compromised in any way, you’re not going to just feel it in your neck area. You’ll also likely notice pain and discomfort across your entire shoulder area and radiating down the top portion of your back. Therefore, treatment to help you heal this tender muscle becomes extra important as it impacts other areas of your body.
What causes the pain?
There are several things that you may be doing that are aggravating this key neck muscle and causing you greater discomfort. For instance, as noted above, spending long hours typing away at a computer can inflame this area of your body. And, if you spend countless hours answering phones without a headset, cradling the phone between your head and neck, you’re just asking for trouble.
Other activities that instigate neck pain include watching movies at a theater when you’re in one of the front rows and have to have your head constantly tilted upward. The same is true for any theater, concert or any other event that causes you to hold your head in one position for any length of time.
Sometimes you can create pain in your neck by engaging in physical exercise that strains this particular area. Some examples include tennis, swimming or lifting weights. Each of these has the tendency to stress your levator scapulae muscle and leave you writhing in agony.
However, just sitting or standing with improper posture can be enough to aggravate the muscles in your neck. Stress can also cause you much pain if you constantly tense up and don’t offer your body any type of relief. It can build and build until eventually your muscles won’t loosen at all. This often results in headaches that won’t seem to go away.
And, if you’ve been in an auto accident, you may have suffered whiplash and caused some damage or irritation to your levator scapulae muscles. These sorts of injuries can take weeks, months and even years to overcome.
How do I treat the pain?
Luckily when it comes to dealing with the pain that originates in your neck area, you have a few different treatment options from which to choose. They include:
Watch your posture
This is probably the simplest thing you can do to ease neck pain. However, if you normally don’t pay attention to your posture and make sure you keep the proper curvature in your neck and spine, it may take some getting used to.
Whether you’re sitting, standing or walking, you want to keep your shoulders back, making sure that they are not hunched forward. You also want them relaxed so that they are essentially just hanging there as opposed as bunched up toward your ears as if you are shrugging.
Your chest should be up and your tummy in slightly. You don’t want to pull it in too much as you should have a natural little curve at your lower back. You may want to consider purchasing a lumbar support if you spend a lot of time either at a desk or in your vehicle.
Keep your head straight forward, as opposed to tilted down. If your computer monitor is too low, put it on something so that the screen is at eye level. This will keep your vertebrates in your neck curved like they should be.
Get a massage
Sometimes if you can get your neck muscles to release and loosen their tightness, it will reduce the pain you feel and provide you some relief. Let the massage therapist know that you struggle with pain and tenderness in this area and he or she can give it some extra attention by working out some of the knots and relieving the pressure.
In fact, if you have a job or hobby that involves constantly stressing and straining your neck, you may want to make massages a regular part of your wellness schedule. Just as you should visit the dentist every six months and get a complete physical once a year, getting a monthly or bi-monthly massage may be just what the doctor ordered to keep your neck in prime physical condition. Plus, you’ll be more likely to alleviate further problems before they start, which is a good thing.
One major key to keeping your levator scapulae muscles flexible and pain free is by making sure you regularly stretch them. You want to keep them limber so that they don’t tighten up on you and send the pain radiating down your shoulders and upper back.
Here are some stretches that focus on this particular muscle and will help you conquer the neck pain you currently feel. Ideally, you will want to do them on a daily basis to get the best results and if you feel more intense pain or tingling while performing them, stop these stretches as they will only aggravate the problem area and seek medical attention to rule out other problems.
Levator Scapulae Stretch
For this stretch, you’ll want to sit on a chair and bend your neck forward. Either sit on your left hand or use it to hold the seat of the chair (this will elongate the stretch). Using your right hand, place it on the upper back of your head and use it to pull your head down toward your right shoulder area. Be sure to tilt your head in that direction as well, as if you are looking at your armpit. Hold the stretch for 2-3 seconds and release. Perform 10 repetitions for maximum muscle release.
Neck Stretch with a Rolled Towel
Take a bath towel and roll it up. Lie back on the edge of your bed and place the towel just above the spinal bone that protrudes at the top of your shoulders and base of your neck.
Place your arms on your stomach and bend your knees so that you’re comfortable. You can perform this stretch anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes.
Start slow so you don’t strain your neck muscles.
Neck Flexion Overstretch
This particular stretch can be performed while you’re sitting or standing, whichever is most comfortable for you. Simply place one of your hands at the top of the back of your head and slowly bend your neck forward. You want your chin to be tucked in, but not digging into your chest. Hold this stretch for 2-3 seconds and release. Aim to complete 10 repetitions of this stretch to effectively loosen your neck muscles
Engage in strength training exercises
The stronger you make your neck muscles, the less prone to injury and pain they will be. A good exercise for this is called the shoulder shrug. You can do it with or without weights, whichever suits you most for your current physical condition.
To perform this exercise, simply stand with your feet at shoulder width apart and your shoulders aligned over them for proper posture. Lift your shoulders straight up (as if to shrug them) and then roll the shoulder blades back and all the way down. This move will build your levator scapulae muscles on both sides of your neck.
You should also do strength training exercises for your entire body as it will help you keep your posture straight and aligned when you do. Work your abdominals, back, chest and shoulder areas 2-4 times a week to keep yourself in prime physical form and your body out of pain.
This form of exercise is slow and controlled and works to not only stretch and lengthen your muscles, but also to strengthen them. These three things are necessary for creating neck muscles that can actively support your head in a way that doesn’t cause discomfort on any level.
One great yoga move that can help to balance your neck muscles is the Cow Cat Flow.
Get down on the floor on your hands and knees and curve your back toward the ceiling, much as a frightened cat does. Inhale slowly while doing it. Release the curve and exhale as you allow your back to relax and end in a downward curve, while you are looking up at the ceiling.
If you are suffering from chronic neck pain, you will want to avoid yoga poses such as the shoulder stand which involves resting your entire body weight on your neck area and tilting it forward. This will only aggravate your pain and may make matters much worse.
Use a supportive pillow
If you use a pillow that is too fluffy, you’re going to be spending your sleeping hours with your neck extending forward. Over time, this can straighten the curve of your neck and cause you a lot of pain.
There are several different options available on the market, so it is pretty much your personal preference which one would work best for you. Several stores offer them, so check the next time you’re in the bedding section of your favorite retailer.
You can also search for “neck pillows” or “linear traction neck pillows”online and find one that will help you solve your neck pain problems while you’re peacefully drifting off to dreamland.
See a chiropractor
When you lose the normal curvature of your spine in your neck area, pain is often the result. However, regular visits to a chiropractor can help to get your spine back into proper form and will help relieve the soreness in your neck.
If you have a job that requires you to sit in front of a computer all day, for instance, you have the tendency to lean forward as you are looking at the monitor. Your neck becomes elongated and the normal curve starts to straighten out.
Before you know it, your vertebrates aren’t moving the way they should, thereby pinching off nerves to other areas of your body. These are called subluxations and will only get worse over time unless you treat them and get your neck area back in proper posture.
Chiropractic doctors can put you through a series of spinal manipulations and give you exercises for your specific needs to help you alleviate the pain. It may require a few visits before you feel any relief, but as soon as your neck begins to return to its correct posture, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better it feels.
Get medical treatment
If your neck pain is chronic or the result of an accident or injury, your medical doctor may refer you to a physical therapist who specializes in neck pain and can work with you to do stretches and exercises that will help ease the pain. You may even find that cortisone injections do the trick and keep your discomfort manageable.
Of course, it all depends on what the cause of your pain is and what your doctor thinks is the appropriate remedy for the problem. Each one may have his or her own preferred methods of treatment so what one recommends may differ from what you’d find by going to another medical professional.
You don’t have to live in pain
Regardless of which one of these treatment options you decide to try, just know that you don’t have to live in pain. You have many different alternatives from which to choose so you can find one that fits your needs explicitly.
Most of the options above won’t cost you any money so there’s no reason you can’t follow them. And, they’re good for your health overall. For instance, when you have proper posture, all of your body’s systems work as they should and exercising via yoga or strength training not only helps your neck, but they also help every other muscle group in your body.
You will get much further ahead when you realize that whole body fitness not only heals you, but it can save you from a lot of further problems. The more you let things go, the more likely you’re going to find yourself with major issues down the road.
The problem areas in your body are similar to rust on a car. They may start out as a small spot, barely noticeable to the human eye. But, if they’re not buffed out and restored, they spread like mad. They eat away at you and cause you to look and feel older than your years. And, if you let them go on long enough, the only option you’re left with is replacement.
That is fine for an automobile as you can just sell it and get a new one. However, you don’t have that luxury with your body. It is the only one you’ll have so you need to take care of it. Sure, you can get replacement parts for certain pieces (like hips and other joints), but you can’t just discard your entire body and start over.
Protect what you got and you’ll get a lot of miles out of it. When you’re old and gray, people will look at you the same way they do an antique car. They’ll admire the work and effort you put into keeping your body and health in pristine condition. And, you can smile back at them because you’ll know that it was worth everything you did.