Neck pain is a drag. It drains your energy, leaves you vulnerable to muscle tweaks and headaches and stops you from doing the things that you love. Just sitting with poor posture can give you a pain in the neck but stack a sport on top of that and your days of effortless head-turning are numbered.
For cyclists, drawing the head forward for prolonged periods to look at the road ahead creates tension in the neck and upper back and compresses the cervical spine. For surfers, paddling into the waves with the neck raised and extended puts repetitive strain on the neck and shoulders. Swimming can cause similar problems. And sports like weightlifting and running, if practiced with poor posture and unreleased everyday tension, can aggravate pain and stiffness in this area.
Typically a triangle of tension develops from the jaw, to the neck, shoulders and upper back.
PNF STRETCHING TO RELIEVE PAIN
If you have tried regular stretching to relieve neck pain without success, you might like to try PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). In this technique, you contract the targeted muscles and then release—creating resistance against the stretch and then letting go and relaxing into the stretch.
One theory behind the mechanism of action here, related to the nervous system, is that PNF stretches decrease the stretch reflex that, under normal circumstances, inhibits a really deep stretch. On a muscular level, it may also help to build strength in the targeted muscle, which is especially beneficial when your objective is to correct muscular imbalances.
First, let’s mobilise the spine and shoulders before we move onto the targeted neck stretches. The key here is to synchronise your breath and movement, to try to keep the rest of your body relaxed and to tune in carefully to the sensations in your muscles and joints.
1. NECK AND SHOULDER ROLLS
Roll your shoulders forward and back, and make half circles with your head 5 or 6 times each. Take these movements slowly and carefully—moving with your breath.
2. SEATED CAT-COW
This is a great spinal mobilisation, especially for the thoracic region. Start with smaller movements and gradually increase your range from there. Keep your elbows out wide and make sure that your neck is supported. Inhale as you arch back and exhale as you round forward.
3. UPPER BODY MOBILISATIONS
These movements loosen up the shoulders, spine, abs and obliques. You can do 3-5 of each on either side—moving with your breath. If you can’t sit comfortably with your legs crossed, it’s fine to stand or sit in a chair.
YOGA-INSPIRED PNF STRETCHES
1. SIDE NECK STRETCH
Drop your left ear to your left shoulder and place your left hand on the right-hand side of your head. Inhale, press up against your hand for 4 seconds. Exhale, relax into the stretch for 8 seconds. Repeat 2-4 times on each side.
You can look up to one side and press the back of your head into your hand and look down to one side and press up into your hand—moving the stretch to the different muscles in the side of your neck.
2. BACK NECK STRETCH
Drop your chin to your chest and interlace your fingers behind your head. Inhale, press your head up into your hands to activate the muscles in your upper back and neck for 4 seconds. Exhale, relax into the stretch for 8 seconds. Repeat 2-4 times.
You can repeat this stretch looking down and to the right, and down and to the left.
3. HANDS-UNDER-FEET POSE
Bend your knees as much as you need to. Inhale, pull up on your feet for 4 seconds. Exhale, completely relax your neck and shoulders and hang your head for 8 seconds. Repeat 2-4 times.
POSES TO AVOID
If you are experiencing neck pain, avoid poses that put your neck in extreme cervical extension, like Camel and Fish pose. And be careful not to over-rotate in twists, including Triangle and Seated Spinal Twist.
YOUR 5 VIDEOS TO ALLEVIATE NECK PAIN
Let me know if you have any questions about the poses, if you practice other stretches that give you relief and please share this article with any friends, family and fellow athletes suffering from neck pain or stiffness.