Phones, laptops, tablets: it’s an epidemic. Every single yoga class reveals to me how much this behavior not only ruins our posture but also, in the long run, our overall good health!
It doesn’t matter if you call it the iHunch, text neck or the iPosture. What goes on in the neck has an immediate effect on what goes on further down the line.
Did you know that your head weighs about 12 pounds? When you bend it forward about 60 degrees to use your phone, the stress on your neck accumulates to approximately 60 pounds. That’s a lot to carry for this tiny structure.
It might seem a little odd, but please do yourself a favor. Lift your phone when using it. Even if this means you need to hold it at eye level. Certainly, you can use your eye muscles to take a closer look at your gadget too. In any event, you will definitely feel a difference in your neck!
Other than the regular daily stressors the most common cause of neck pain is muscle strain and tension due to lifestyle and bad posture. Amy Cuddy asserts that poor posture can also have a negative effect on memory as well as psyche.
There are, however, other reasons for neck pain—including injuries and diseases such as whiplash, degenerative disc disease, and bulging or herniated discs.
In this post, you will learn more about your neck, how your lifestyle contributes to neck pain and how yoga can help create and maintain a healthy neck.
If You Didn’t Have A Neck
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you didn’t have a neck? Well, if you didn’t have a neck, your head would just be a stubby, albeit beautiful, appendage that could only look straight forward. That’s it!
You wouldn’t be able to look up at the pretty blue sky or down at your ‘little piggy toes.’ You definitely wouldn’t be able to look both ways before crossing a street! Your husband wouldn’t be able to see that spaghetti stain on his shirt, and you would keep phone calls to your mother short and sweet, since holding the phone with your shoulder while multitasking would be impossible.
The Neck Is A Part Of The Spine
Your neck is made up of seven vertebrae (bones) beginning at the base of your skull. This part of your spine is called the cervical spine. The seven vertebrae are named C1 through C7. Gel-filled discs are tucked neatly between each one to give your neck the support, flexibility and cushioning needed to help your spine absorb impact and move freely.
Your cervical spine is not separate from the lower (thoracic and lumbar) spine. Rather, it is one complete system that works together. The entire spine is made up of 24 vertebrae that make the shape of an S curve. Normally, the thoracic spine is curved outward (called kyphosis), and the cervical spine is curved inward (called lordosis).
There is a tight-knit family of vertebrae, ligaments, and muscles that encase the spinal cord, which extends down your back and contains nervous tissue that facilitates communication and blood flow to and from the brain. Think of it as a superhighway for the life-giving nerves and blood vessels essential for the body to function.
An important set of muscles is the sternocleidomastoids, or SCM. It is a pair of muscles on either side of your neck. Together with the scalene muscles, the SCM draws the head forward and rotates it to face the other side. You use them every day when turning your head to look over your shoulder or when raising your head from the pillow in the morning.
The SCM are essential muscles for singers too, as they raise the ribs during deep inhalation and help you keep your throat open to create more depth in your sound. My voice builder calls them the ‘Muhammad Ali Muscles,’ as you would see Ali clench this set of muscles in a fight. When these muscles are chronically tight, it may lead to headaches and neck pain.
Hence, a very complex network of soft tissue provides stability to the entire spine and still allows your head to look up, down, and all around. When you have a strong, supple, healthy neck, you should have full range of motion and no pain. But what if you don’t?
How Our Lifestyle Contributes To Neck Pain
Who hasn’t sat for too long in one position? We are not always aware of our posture while washing dishes, cooking, reading a good book, or after an hour of being engrossed in the latest episode of your favorite TV series.
Normal activities of daily living can cause to strain your neck. This discomfort can lead to muscle strain and headaches. Some of these include:
- sleeping on a hard pillow
- carrying a heavy bag on your shoulder
- working at the computer for way too long
- straining while doing housework
- playing sports (especially if you are a competitive person)
- doing renovations
- carrying too many groceries into the house at one time.
These simple, unassuming actions can irritate your neck.
You may not notice tightness or pain in the muscles surrounding your neck right away. It can take hours, or even days, for the pain to set in.When it does, it is unmistakable and can be extremely inconvenient and painful.
What You Need To Know About Your Neck
The spinal cord is a fascinating bundle of nerves and tissue that extends from our brain all the way down our spine. It helps to facilitate communication between our brain, organs, and all other parts of our body to keep it running in tip-top shape.
Fun fact for you: did you know that the posterior longitudinal ligament and the anterior longitudinal ligament extend from the lumbar spine all the way up to the base of the skull and provide stability to the entire spine? They get help from the primary muscles (erector spinae) which are shared between the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine and run along both sides of the spine.
It’s All Fun And Games Until Someone Gets Hurt
But accidents happen.
Traffic can drive you mad—especially traffic in Lagos. From time to time, even I have to show my nasty side when other motorists try to run me over. As we are constantly rushing from one appointment to the next, we tend to get frustrated with being held up in traffic or going too slow. We want to quickly send a message that we are running late. In situations like these, we’re easily tempted to grab the phone. That’s when accidents occur.
Are you one of those who still texts while driving? Obviously, you don’t need me to be telling you (AGAIN) that this is super dangerous. Perhaps this will help change your bad habit. Please click here to understand why you should avoid texting while driving and save a person’s life.
Milder car accidents can result in whiplash, a very common cause of neck pain. Extreme whiplash movements can damage the sternocleidomastoid muscle and typically occur by getting rear-ended in a car accident or another impact from behind. But really, it can be caused by any impact that causes a snapping of the neck. Symptoms can include neck pain, stiffness, headaches, dizziness, and discomfort.
Although sports and other recreational activities are fun, they can lead to injury too. We want to get that ball so badly that we forget that we are only flesh and bone. Sometimes we are quickly reminded! When fractures happen, recovery can take time and patience. Stretching and strengthening the muscles in the neck prior to injury can help with recovery time.
Why We Cannot Just Replace Our Neck
Much like a tire, our neck shows signs of wear and tear over time, but unlike a tire, we cannot just replace our neck. We need to take care of our neck with a healthy posture and diet, regular exercise and stretching so that we can combat the natural progression of degeneration.
Wearing of the disc space happens naturally as we age. At times injury, poor posture or nutrition can speed up this process, causing the disc to lose height and strength. Osteoarthritis of the spine is a “wear-and-tear” disease. It is a degenerative illness of the joint which results in compression of the discs and is often referred to as degenerative disc disease.
In the cervical spine it usually manifests itself as a stiff, sore neck, preventing full range of motion and making simple movements difficult and painful.
Nerves aggravated by inflammation can cause numbness, tingling, and weakness in the neck. Sometimes these symptoms can indicate that there is a more serious problem, so it is important to see your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
If you are in pain, the most important thing for you to do is decompress and relax the muscles of the neck. It is crucial for you to unlearn poor posture and reeducate your body on what a normal curve of a neck feels like. Yoga is a fantastic tool to help you unlearn bad habits and relearn good ones. Find the position wherein you are pain-free and cultivate it.
When Cervical Herniation Can Be Prevented
My friend’s husband bent over to put his shoe on one morning and POP!, he ruptured a disc in his lower back. The disc material had exited its protective lining and was pressing up against his spinal cord so severely that it was threatening to sever it. They rushed him to the hospital and got him into surgery as quickly as possible.
I am sure this could have been prevented. When my friend told me about it, I felt tempted to inquire about his health condition prior to the accident. However, I knew this wasn’t the right moment for me to go fact-finding. It was the time to show compassion and simply be there for her. I am positive that he must have complained of back, neck, or hip pain prior to this. Our bodies speak to us all the time, if we would only listen.
The spine contains vertebrae (bones) that sandwich a gel-like material called the nucleus pulposus, which is encased by a tough, fibrous outer layer called the annulus fibrosis. These spongy discs (called intervertebral discs) are meant to absorb impact. They also provide height and space to facilitate the passage of nerves between the vertebrae.
When pressure from the vertebrae forces some, or all, of this gel-like material out through a weak part of the outer layer, it is called a herniated disc. When this happens, it can press on nerves, resulting in pain. In extreme cases, it can press on the spinal cord and can present a real emergency.
Sometimes the disc is not ruptured and is only pressing against the outer layer. This is called a bulging disc. If proper care is taken, and you start to listen to your body’s whispers, you can heal a bulging disc before it herniates. Unfortunately, when a disc is bulging, it doesn’t take much for it to herniate. Just bending, twisting, or lifting a suitcase or a crate of drinks can cause a herniation when a disc has already been aggravated.
These diseases don’t happen overnight. Age, weight gain, poor nutrition and posture, or even a quick twist as you stand up all contribute to the multiple forms of degenerative disc disease. Most commonly, it affects C5 and C6 because these two vertebrae carry most of the pressure.
Blame It On Your Mother
I know a lady who, while in her mother’s womb, never grew a disc between her C3 and C4. She gets a tight, stiff neck often, and her range of motion is limited at best. Sometimes congenital malformations happen and are the cause of neck pain. If this is the case for you, stretching and strengthening exercises may help give you increased range of motion and prevent tense muscles.
Neck pain clearly can be a symptom of something far more serious. You should see a doctor if you experience neck pain while you are sick, have a fever, have a serious illness, if your neck pain is steadily worsening, if your bones feel sore to touch, or if your arms feel weak, numb, or tingly.
Your body is unique, and your pain is yours alone. Understanding what is causing your neck pain is the key to finding relief and/or treatment. I do personalized healthy yoga that will not only help you understand your body better, but will also help you free your body from pain. Click here for your online quiz.
Your Neck Is Free
It is so important to be proactive in the health of your neck.
Nia Vardalos, a Canadian-American actress of Greek descent, once said that “The man may be the head of the household, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head whichever way she pleases.” Your neck needs TLC (just like a woman does) or it won’t do the job you’re asking it to do.
In Berlin, I practice with Susanne Feld, who does a beautiful job in helping her clients and students walk upright and stand tall. Mindfulness and awareness not only help us release stress and pain, but also help us understand that indeed the neck is free. Tanja Huebner joins Alexander Technique with dance.
Yoga Therapy For Healthy Neck
Yoga is a healing practice that helps to correct misalignment in the body. We tend to repeat our bad habits even during this practice. Hence, it is crucial for us to unlearn those bad habits. A beautiful, healthy yoga pose helps you do exactly that.
If you are in pain, the best therapy for your neck is decompression. Gentle stretches and breathing techniques may help you relax and decompress. Tension in the neck feeds pain, and pain feeds tension. It is when you learn how to relax into a pain-free position that you will be able to release pain.
Obviously, everyBODY is different. One needs to look at the individual’s challenges to understand the underlying cause.
Let’s listen to the whispers and respond quickly to the needs of our bodies.
The following exercises may help you relax and decompress your tense neck muscles. Your neck has a big job to do every day, and, like every other part of your body, you need to strengthen and stretch the neck to keep it strong and supple. Neck exercises and stretches can prevent future injury, tension and can lessen current pain. As you do them make sure you allow the breath to move you into and out of the poses. Click here for your free breathing exercise.
Pose #1: The Neck Press
The Forward Neck Press:
- Sit on a chair and hold your head in a neutral position with your ears over your shoulders.
- Place the palm of your hand over your forehead and gently, but firmly, press against your hand with your head.
- Please press for 10 counts, breathe and release.
This is a forward isometric strengthening exercise that is simple but effective. It helps to strengthen the sternocleidomastoid muscle on both sides of your neck.
The Sideways Neck Press:
- Place the palm of your hand on the side of your head.
- Gently, but firmly, press against your hand with your head.
- Please press for 10 counts, breathe and release.
- Repeat for opposite side.
This is a sideways isometric strengthening exercise that strengthens the scalene muscles on the side of your neck.
The Backward Neck Press:
- Place the palm of both hands behind your head.
- Gently, but firmly, press against your hands with your head.
- Please press for 10 counts, breathe and release.
This is a backward isometric strengthening exercise that strengthens the erector spinae muscles on either side of your spine. Please press for 10 counts , breathe and release.
Pose #2: The Neck Roll (kantasanchalana)
- Remain seated on the chair and hold your head in a neutral position with your ears over your shoulders.
- On your exhale, fold your head forward.
- Take a deep inhale through your nose and slowly roll your head to the right until it meets the shoulder.
- Exhale again and roll your head forward half way coming back to the center.
- Breathe in through the nose and roll your head to the left shoulder.
- Please repeat this 5 times for every side.
- On your finale exhale, return to center.
IMPORTANT: Please make sure that when you roll your head, you never roll your head all the way to the back. Doing so puts unnecessary pressure on your cervical spine and may pinch arteries and nerves depriving the brain of oxygen. Make sure you are actively breathing into and out of this stretch.
These exercises are a wonderful way to stretch the neck muscles and release tension and stiffness in the neck.
Want more? Let’s practice together.
The neck is the primary connection between body and head. It is what gives us the ability to move our heads up, down, and all around.
We are all unique, and so is our neck pain. There are many different reasons for neck pain and finding yours is the key to finding the right treatment and relief.
Lifestyle and activities of daily living can cause tight, strained muscles that contribute to pain and headaches. Using yoga therapy to stretch and strengthen your neck may help decrease your neck pain and prevent future episodes of neck pain.
If you are in pain, the best therapy for your neck is to decompress. Gentle stretches and breathing techniques may help you relax and decompress the neck.
Do you suffer from headaches or migraines that seem to be associated with neck problems? Do you seek exercises that give your neck some TLC?
I do personalized healthy yoga. Let me help you with a healthy yoga sequence customized to you! Click here for your online quiz. What do you have to lose except your pain?
Info about Me
I’m Chi. I’ve always been passionate about healing and empowerment.
I work as a catalyst for personal transformation. I help you explore the best version of yourself, and yoga is a fantastic tool to accomplish that goal. I am a certified yoga therapist and a classically trained jazz vocalist, and I hold a Ph.D. in Communications. I look forward to practicing with you!
Cuddy, Amy. Your iPhone Is Ruining Your Posture – and Your Mood. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/opinion/sunday/your-iphone-is-ruining-your-posture-and-your-mood.html?_r=0. [Accessed January 2018]
Fisk, Judy. When Stretching the Neck, Should You Roll Your Head Back? http://livehealthy.chron.com/stretching-neck-should-roll-head-back-5817.html. [Accessed January 2018]
Health Line Media. Muscles of the neck. http://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/neck-muscles. [Accessed January 2018]
Spine-health. Cervical Spine Anatomy and Neck Pain, Cervical Herniated Disc Symptoms and Treatment Options. http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/neck-pain. [Accessed January 2018]
WebMD. When to call a doctor, Neck Strain and Whiplash. http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/neck-strain-whiplash. [Accessed January 2018]