Neck pain and tension can really be…well, a pain in the neck!
Are you one of those people who always wakes up with a stiff neck? Do you have trouble turning and looking over your shoulder without twisting your whole body?
Your neck issues may be more than just a physical annoyance. Watch today’s video to learn how chronic stress and biting your tongue can contribute to ongoing issues with neck pain and stiffness.
Why Neck Pain is More than Just a Physical Problem
Protecting your neck is natural whenever you feel threatened. What you have to understand is that you’ve basically got two brains operating at the same time. One portion of your brain is logical and present in modern day, while the other part, the portion that runs biological functions below our conscious awareness, is stuck back in time.
Your logical brain thinks, “Crap. How am I going to pay for all this dental work that I need! Stress!”
And the primal part of you – your reptilian brain, if you will – goes, “Tiger? Where?!”
The auto-response is to protect yourself. You might not crouch into a ball or start running because your logical brain has some temperance over your reptilian one, but there’s a subtle physical response.
This goes back to the idea that you can’t have a thought that’s separate from your movement, nor a movement separate from thought. They’re inherently intertwined.
And, interestingly, if you’re protecting your neck with tiny gestures like touching it with your hand or hunching your shoulders up toward your ears, you project an air of subordination toward the people around you. They read your slight shrinking as low self confidence and lack of leadership potential, which can subconsciously erode their trust in you.
Say What You Want to Say and Let the Words Come Out
I’ve recently started keeping a voice diary as an exercise in saying what I actually want to say through my writing. The basic premise is to keep a record of what a person said and how you responded, how you actually wanted to respond and why you didn’t say what you wanted to say.
Which gets a Sarah Barreilles song stuck in my head….(you’re welcome).
There’s a lot of reasons to keep your mouth shut. Sometimes it’s because no one asked your opinion, and sometimes it’s just rude to point out what seems so obvious to you.
But I’m sure I’m not alone in keeping my mouth shut out of fear. From wondering what people would think, from worrying that it might be a little outlandish.
And this kind of voice stuffing contributes to chronic neck tension. Don’t believe me? Think of what you wanted to say to your boss the last time she asked you to finish a report at five o’clock on a Friday evening, due immediately if not sooner.
Feel your jaw clench? Yeah, that’s going to affect your neck, the muscles being connected and all.
And if you’re a chronic voice stuffer, you’re going to have chronic tension. It just becomes habitual. Bite your tongue, swallow your words, bitter pill that they are, and smile, smile, smile.
Boom. Before you know it, you have neck pain.
Simple, Low-Key Exercise to Ease Neck Tension and Pain
Relieving neck tension can restore confidence in yourself and your ideas and cause others to perceive you as a leader, not to mention helping you sleep better and get through your day a lot more comfortably.
The goal is to get your nervous system to let go of its grip on your cervical vertebra – the bones in your neck – to allow them to move more freely. To do this, we just have to remind your brain how your neck is meant to move.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Check your baseline.
Turn your head gently and slowly to the right and left to see how far you can twist, picking a point in the room for reference. Don’t force it, we’re just looking at your available range of motion. Also, pro tip: moving slower allows your nervous system time to adjust and you’ll get more range of motion instantly. Whipping your head around quickly causes your body to guard the delicate neck muscles, especially if they’re already tight and rigid.
2. Place your hands on your cheeks.
Let your elbows hang down heavily, relaxing your shoulders.
3. Pick a side and twist in that direction.
Move from your belly button up, so you’re turning your torso, arms, head and neck all as one unit. Only go as far as is comfortable. It’s not a contest. You’ll get more out of working within your comfortable range of motion than you will from trying to overachieve and strain yourself.
4. Once you’ve completed several twists in one direction, drop your hands and turn your head that same way.
Check to see if the range of motion has increased. You’ll know because you can turn further and see past the point that you originally marked in step one.
5. Repeat steps 2-4 on the opposite side.
Enjoy your new found range of motion! It’s amazing how liberating it is to be able to look over your shoulder without turning your whole body, almost like being let out of prison.
Want more great neck stretches? Check out Posture Rehab, my digital video suite designed to release tension throughout your whole body. Click here to get the details >>0
Scott Lockaby says
Thank you Sukie! This simple exercise is nothing short of amazing! So simple to do and instantly improved my range of motion. My neck pain is significantly less as well. Also your explanation of the underlying causes of the stiff neck is very helpful. I’ll need to focus on addressing these causes; I had no idea they were effecting me physically but clearly they are.
Glad this worked for you, Scott! Shifting tension and tightness is definitely a process 🙂