Neck pain is one of the most common forms of musculoskeletal problems, with roughly 80% of people experiencing it at some stage in their life and up to 50% dealing with it annually. Moreover, it is a condition that can severely limit your movement and quality of life until it is treated. Stretching is one of the most effective solutions to combat both acute and chronic discomfort in this region.
This quick guide to neck pain and stretching will answer all of your key questions on the topic, including but not limited to;
- What causes neck pain?
- Which stretches can be used to combat neck pain?
- What other steps can be taken to combat and prevent neck pain?
- Who can help you find the right stretching routine?
- What happens if neck pain is left untreated?
Neck Pain Causes
Before a stretching clinic or professional can determine the right treatment or plan to manage your neck pain symptoms, it’s important to understand the potential causes of neck pain.
In short, there are many potential causes ranging from genetic reasons to side effects caused by untreated pains in other parts of the body. For example, back pain can place added strain on the neck and can subsequently cause chronic conditions. Other causes of significant neck pain can include;
- Trauma – whether it’s a sporting injury, a car accident, or a fall in the workplace doesn’t matter. Trauma is often the reason for short-term neck pain experienced by many stretching clinic patients while it may also lead to life-changing chronic conditions.
- Sleep positioning – sleeping in an awkward position for several hours may result in a stiff neck or other forms of neck pain. The good news is that this is often a short-term issue that will only last a day or two, especially when supported by the right stretching routines.
- Overstretching – repeated head movements, such as twisting from one side to the other, can lead to neck pain too. Overworking the muscles and tendons in this area will cause acute pains linked to inflammation. With the right response, it doesn’t have to become a chronic issue.
- Health conditions – although rare, neck pain can be caused by growths, tumors, cysts, meningitis, and other conditions. Likewise, it may be linked to rheumatoid arthritis, which partially explains the fact that the threat of developing neck pain is increased with age.
However, global studies between 1990 and 2017 have shown a significant increase in prevalence, which highlights the fact that our changing lifestyles are (at least partially) to blame for a large number of cases. Poor posture has subsequently become an increasingly common cause of both acute and chronic neck pain.
The harsh reality is that we are collectively less mobile than we were in previous decades. The combination of sedentary lifestyles and increased weight put a lot of unnecessary pressure on the back, shoulders, and neck.
Meanwhile, spending hours slouched over an office desk or leaning down to face smartphone screens is bad news for long-term neck health too. As well as becoming inflamed, muscles and ligaments may slowly move away from their natural positioning, which subsequently prevents them from holding bones in the right position
Whatever the exact cause might be, there is often a link to muscular issues. Thankfully, that means stretching and other treatments can often reduce the pain and help to restore movement.
Why Treating Neck Pain is Crucial
When experiencing a bout of neck pain, you will be very eager to overcome the symptoms of pain and discomfort ASAP as it can quite literally stop you from working, enjoying life, or even getting out of bed. In many cases, though, the pain will pass (or at least be reduced) within a few days. So, you may assume that it’s OK to just let the body heal itself. Wrong.
While inflammation may subside and pain may evaporate, this does not treat the underlying cause. In turn, this can heighten the risk of repeated issues. Worse still, the episodes can become more frequent and lead to chronic conditions. Given that 5% of people with neck pain become disabled or unable to work, it should be clear to see why treating neck pain is key.
By fixing or managing your neck pain, you will notice the following benefits;
- A reduction or complete removal of pain in the neck,
- Reduced strain on the back and other body parts,
- Improved sleep patterns and the rewards this brings,
- Improved mental health as a result of no pain or life restrictions,
- Restored movement and ability to work and complete activities.
Neck pain can be very frustrating (and painful) to live with. So, whether it’s acute or chronic problems, your neck issues must not be left untreated.
A Quick Look at the Neck Muscles
The neck muscles are responsible for supporting and moving the head, which is another reason why keeping them in good health is vital. In addition to the neck muscles themselves, you will find muscles of the head, spine, and thorax in this area.
Neck muscles are split into three main categories: anterior, lateral, and posterior groups, Each group is broken down further into groups like superficial anterior muscles, scalene lateral muscles, and deep layer posterior groups. They are each determined by their positioning and function.
Pains in the neck can be attributed to any of the main neck muscle groups, as well as the head, spine, or thorax muscles located in this region. Whether it’s the anterior, lateral, or postural groups, though, straining the muscles through any of the aforementioned causes will cause inflammation and significant discomfort.
Stretching to Treat Neck Pain
Neck pain can be a real pain in the backside, but the great news is that simple stretching exercises often have a hugely positive impact.
It might be difficult to complete the right exercises when the inflammation of muscle strains are at their worst, but you should be able to complete some soft stretching with the help of an expert. In the meantime, using over-the-counter anti-inflammatories should provide quick pain relief. Meanwhile, rest and hot/cold compress actions are also useful in most cases.
However, a professional stretching clinic can help you find a range of clinic-based and home-based neck stretching exercises to provide pain relief, reduce tension, restore flexibility, and build strength to overcome the current problems and prevent further problems. Some of the most effective examples are detailed below:
Backward bending is a particularly effective stretch for relieving neck pain and rebuilding the movement as it works all muscles from the front of the neck through to the throat, as well as muscles found at the back of the neck. This includes the muscles at the base of the skull and into the upper back region.
The best way to complete neck extensions is to keep the shoulders and back straight and stationary before slowly tilting the head back so that you can look upwards. This allows the muscles, particularly the front neck muscles, to slowly extend. For the best results, you should stop when you start to feel discomfort before holding the stretch for five seconds.
After returning to the starting position, you should repeat the same stretch for around 6-8 reps. If coming back from an injury or trauma, you should find that you can gradually stretch the muscles a little further each time.
Forward bending is essentially the inverse operation. Standing straight with shoulders back, you should slowly tilt the head until it starts to feel painful. Next, you should hold the pose for five seconds before slowly lifting the head back to its starting position. Repeating it 6-8 times should suffice and you’ll want to do this at least once daily – if not 2-3 times per day.
Neck flexions will see the front neck muscles contract while the muscles at the back of the neck will extend. By completing a workout that uses flexion alongside neck extensions, you’ll manage to work the three muscle groups at both the front and back of the neck.
A lateral neck extension can also be used. This involves tilting the head so that the right ear touches the top of your right shoulder before then doing the same on your left side, Once again, slow and controlled movements should be followed by a five-second hold.
Neck rotations are another way to slowly develop greater flexibility in the neck region. It involves rotating the neck while keeping the back and shoulders straight. In many ways, it is similar to copying the movement you’d see from an owl and should be followed by holding a five-second pose.
The rotation should be slow until you feel too much tension for comfort. You should do 6-8 reps of moving to one side before switching to the other side. So, start with the left and then do the right, this allows you to stretch all three muscle groups by contracting and extending both sides of the neck.
It is a stretch where the help of a stretching clinic can be priceless. A professional can help you with this stretch along with more powerful rotations to reduce pain and remove stiffness from the neck.
Additional Benefits of Stretching for Neck Pain
The truth is that stretching for pain relief isn’t the only reason to invest in a good neck-based routine, even if it is the main incentive when you are in the middle of an acute issue or a flare-up of chronic pains.
A variety of additional benefits can be gained as a direct result of incorporating neck stretching exercises into your routines. The list includes but is not limited to;
- Developing increased strength and movement in the neck muscles over time,
- Removing the fear of completing sporting activities that previously caused pain,
- Bringing a few minutes of peace to your life for better emotional health,
- Gaining a better understanding of your musculoskeletal health,
- Feeling in greater control of your life as neck pains will take a far smaller toll.
In short, a little neck stretching isn’t only great for your neck. It supports your overall wellness by preventing the negative impacts that neck pains have on your life while simultaneously yielding the rewards of an established sense of balance.
The Final Word on Neck Pain and Stretching
The harsh reality is that most of us will experience neck pain at some stage in our lives. Moreover, changing lifestyles mean that many people will begin to experience this problem at a younger age. With the right neck exercises, courtesy of a dedicated stretching clinic, it will be possible to help prevent the early onset of chronic conditions while also successfully managing the symptoms currently experienced.
In turn, it should unlock a better quality of life in both the immediate and long-term future. To find out more about neck stretching or to book an appointment today, get in touch with the iFlex Stretch Studio team today.