Neck pain and headaches can be debilitating. Having plenty of neck issues myself; I know and understand first-hand how miserable they can be if you do not catch them in their early stages of development. One of the best ways that I have found to combat stiff necks, neck pain, and even headaches, is by doing stretches. Stretching daily or at least a few times a week can help ward off these pains a great deal.
A sore or stiff neck and headaches can arise upon waking up first thing in the morning, or it can develop during a long work day, especially if you have a desk based job. This is often due to the results of the muscles and joints around the upper neck becoming too tight, putting pressure on the nerves at the top of your spine. This pain shoots up to the eyes and forehead. Instead of reaching for your pain medications, try to do some gentle stretching exercises instead.
Stretching helps keep your flexibility, which is important to preventing discomfort from stiff necks, general neck pains, and headaches. Below are some easy stretches that you can do throughout the day to help prevent neck pain and headaches from occurring.
Some articles that I found in my online searches that list these stretches, as well as some other stretches to try that you might want to check out are the following:
Neck Exercises for Neck Pain
Stretches for Headaches
5 Simple Stretches to Relieve Headaches
Simple Stretches to Relieve and Prevent Tension Headaches
Cheers to a New (and pain free) Year!
The second most common complaint I hear from clients is about low back pain. No real surprise here. If your lower back pain is not caused from your athletic or workout routines, it is most likely caused by your constant sitting patterns. Most Americans spend a majority of their waking day in a seated position. You sit to drink your morning coffee and eat breakfast. You sit during your commute to get to work. You probably sit at a desk most of the work day, then you sit some more on your commute home. You then sit to eat dinner and maybe even move to sitting on the couch to “unwind” from the long work day. Take a minute and think about what is happening to your muscles when you are sitting all day…you are keeping your hamstrings in a shortened position, which causes a strain and tension on your lower back.
So, usually when you tell me you have low back pain, I often ask to work on your glutes, hip flexors, and hamstrings. Why you ask? Take a minute and think about what is happening to your muscles when you are sitting all day. You are keeping your hamstrings in a shortened position, which causes a strain and tension on your lower back. For many people, when their hamstrings and glutes are tight, those muscles will pull downward, causing a strain on your lower back. By relaxing and lengthening your hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors, we are alleviating the low back from taking on the added stress that these tight muscles are causing. Below are some links to hamstring stretches, and yoga poses that will help relieve lower back pain.
Hamstring Stretches At Home
This is a great article that demonstrates both in writing and with pictures on how to do some of the more common hamstring stretches that you can do at home. It covers:
Yoga Stretches To Help Relieve Lower Back Pain
Yoga stretches are a great and gentle way to work on your muscles. You can do these after a workout session or even daily to improve your flexibility and to help relieve your lower back pain. This article goes over a handful of the following yoga poses:
5 Best Lower Back Stretches After Sitting All Day
This article gives 5 different stretches to help your lower back pain. These stretches are focused on one group of muscles at time, either the hamstrings, glutes (butt muscles), or the hip flexors. A couple of the suggestions even have a link to a more in-depth description and videos on how to do the particular stretches.
I hope you find these articles beneficial in your self-care steps in relieving your lower back pain. Stretching does not need to be a lengthy and time consuming project. Incorporating some of these stretches for 10 minutes in your day can do wonders! You can even plop down on your floor and do them while you unwind in front of your TV at the end of the day.
I would say that the most common area that is requested to be worked on every session by clients is the upper back. Especially the Rhomboid muscles, the muscles between the spine and scapula (shoulder blade), are all knotted up and causing you pain and discomfort.
For most of us, this is due to bad posture. Our lifestyles cater to a slouched and hunched over posture all day long. Whether you are driving, sitting at desk, or texting away on your phone, you will notice that your shoulders are rounded forward, neck may be extended slightly forward, and you may even be tilting your head in a downward direction.
All of these positions lead to pulling your upper back muscles into a lengthened position and your chest (pectoral) muscles to become locked down in a shortened position, causing a lot of your upper back pain. That is where stretching your chest and shoulders, in between your massage appointments, play an important role in your own self-care. Below are some links to various shoulder and chest stretches that you may find useful.
Yoga Poses to Open Your Shoulders (Click link to see full list with photos of the poses. Below are a few of my favorite ones that I like to use for my shoulders).
Stretches for Upper Cross Syndrome
This website goes over some stretches for your pectoral muscles (pecs) as well as some scalene stretches (side of your neck area). When most people say that their upper back is bothering them (Rhomboid area), often times their pectoral muscles will be quite tight as well. To help relieve the muscles in your back, you need to release the muscles in your chest. They are playing tug-o-war with one another, with the pecs winning. If you allow the pec muscles to relax and lengthen, the rhomboids can then shorten back to their natural position, reducing pain and stiffness that you may be feeling.
Simple Stretches While At Your Desk
I hear all the time from clients that they are too busy to stretch. That they are stuck at a desk all day long. This website (even though a little silly in their presentation) shows several stretches that you can do while still seated at your desk. I also recommend keeping water at your desk and drink it. This will do two things for you. One, it will fill your bladder so that you will have to get up to use the restroom. Getting up and walking is great time to stretch your muscles and relieve them from that hunched over, seated position. Two, you need to refill that water bottle up again, which also requires you to get up from your desk. See where I am going with this? Mini breaks that only take a couple of minutes can do wonders for your posture!
Stay tuned for more stretching for pain relief in my next blog! (Lower Back Pain).
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.