Updated: Sep 7, 2020
Spending the day in front of the computer can really be a pain in the neck!
Usually, neck pain is caused by issues like poor posture or spending hours in a workstation that is not set up ergonomically to meet your individual needs. For example, placing your laptop or computer monitor too low, or placing your keyboard too high can cause your body to adopt a forward-head posture or a shoulder shrug position for hours, causing your muscles and fascia to tighten up like a big rubber band.
Building core strength, strengthening back muscles and stretching the tight areas in the chest and shoulders can help alleviate your neck pain and stiffness for good! If you consistently find that you experience muscle tension and discomfort in your neck, think about working on the balance between and building strength in your core and the muscles in the back of your body (posterior kinetic chain), as well as stretching tight and overworked muscles in the front of your body (anterior kinetic chain).
For minor cricks and kinks, try these movements to relieve muscle tension, but if you're experiencing serious neck pain, be sure to consult a physician or healthcare practitioner.
1. Shoulder Rolls 15 - 60 seconds
Start with a warm-up to get your fascia hydrated and your joints and muscles ready for action. Try breathing in as you roll your shoulders forward and up, and exhaling as you slide your shoulder blades back and down - where they are made to sit. If you are experiencing more pain on one side, try rolling one shoulder for a few repetitions and then the other, paying close attention to how each shoulder and the neck muscles on that side feel.
Start small and get bigger, staying in your pain-free zone.
2. Head Nods 3-5 slow repetitions
Nod your head slowly, starting to bring chin toward chest. Pause at the bottom and think about lengthening the back of the neck. Bring the head back up and then lift your chin slightly, maintaining as much length in the back of the neck as possible. Each complete nod - down and up - can take anywhere from 3 - 5 seconds or so. Not extremely slow - just slow enough to feel the muscles of your neck.
3. Neck Rotation 3-5 repetitions
Starting with your ears over your shoulders, eyes straight ahead, and the shoulders back and down, rotate your head, looking over one shoulder and then the other. Keep this movement fairly slow (you don't want to get dizzy!) and mindful. Do you feel more restriction on one side? Can you keep your head over your shoulders as you rotate, without jutting your chin forward?
4. Chin Tuck 5-10 repetitions
For this movement, I like to put my first 2 fingers on my chin - not to push, but as a sensory assist to let me know where my head is moving in space. Start with a lengthened spine, standing or sitting tall, with shoulders back and down and 2 fingers of your dominant hand on your chin. Your eyes should be looking straight ahead with your chin parallel to the floor. Allow your head to float forward, pressing slightly into your fingertips; then glide your head back over your shoulders while lengthening the back of the neck, allowing your fingers to continue to touch your chin. Your neck muscles are initiating the movement without any pushing from your hand.
Once you feel comfortable with this movement, try placing your hands behind your head, with your fingers interlaced, elbows at about a 45-degree angle forward, just in range of your peripheral vision. Gently press your head into your hands for a bit of added resistance. Remember, keep the neck long and don't overdo this movement. My favorite way to perform a Chin Tuck (neck retraction) is in a supine position, on the floor with a towel folded up under my head.
Be sure to breathe continuously throughout the movement, exhaling as you press back without bearing down on the breath, and inhaling as your chin moves more forward. Maintain the length in the back of your neck as you pull your head back over your shoulders. You can progress from a one- or two-second hold in the tucked position to five seconds.
Yes, this movement does create several chins when you are in the retracted-head position. Isn't it fun?!
5. Chin Tuck with Active Scapular Retraction 5-10 repetitions
Place your hands on your desk or a table, reaching forward as you extend your arms in front. Placing your hands forward on your thighs will work if you aren't near a desktop. Sit tall as you perform a slight chin tuck, finding a neutral position with your head over your shoulders and your neck long. Relax your shoulders down and back. Applying some resistance, press into the table with your hands, pulling your elbows back until your shoulder blades squeeze together (retract). Extend your hands forward to your start position without slouching or compromising your postural alignment. Keep your eyes forward and breathe throughout each repetition - inhaling the arms forward and exhaling them back with resistance as the shoulders pull back and down.
6. Seated Twist 3-10 repetitions
Inhale. Sit tall, forward in your chair and away from the chair back with a neutral spine - heart over hips and head over heart. Exhale, bracing your core and turn your belly button to the right side, placing your hands on the outside of the right thigh. Complete your rotation by opening your chest and right shoulder toward the back of the room, looking over your right shoulder like you are trying to see something very interesting behind your chair. Inhale back to center and then perform the twist, from the bottom up, on the left. Be sure not to crank on your back or push your back to a place where the muscles in your core aren't able to take you in this twist. Your hands are on your thighs for support only.
7. Chest Stretch with Nod/Rotation 3-5 repetitions
Stay forward in your chair, making sure your back is well away from your chair back. Place your hands on your lower back or clasp your hands behind your back. Being mindful of your head placement and neutral spine, squeeze your shoulder blades together, opening and stretching your chest. If your hands are clasped, your arm can straighten more to increase the stretch; if your hands are placed on your lower back, draw your elbows back as you slide your shoulder blades down your back and squeeze them toward each other without allowing your back to arch.
Inhale into this stretch and nod your head. Exhale as you release the stretch. Inhale into the same chest and shoulder stretch, then rotate your head side to side. Exhale as you release.
For lasting relief from nagging neck pain, I would suggest having an expert set up your workstation for optimal comfort. Be sure to support your body and brain with a comprehensive strength and flexibility program that focuses on posture, core strength and flexibility and mobility.
For more information about the programs I offer - virtual personal training, health coaching and more - contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.