After a particularly strenuous workout or when you first wake up in the a.m., does your neck feel achy? You’re definitely not alone, according to dentist Jeffrey S. Haddad, D.D.S., who reports that nearly 85 percent of the U.S. population experiences pain in their neck or back during their lifetime. Though it’s usually a manageable soreness, it may be time to try other tactics if you have a nagging discomfort that doesn’t ease up with rest. Here, medical professionals explain the most effective ways to ease neck pain, so you can make it to the office, your workout class, or happy hour pain-free.
What causes neck pain?
You may think it’s only your lower back that’s impacted by a stationary lifestyle. Think again, says Ankur Dave, M.D., director of pain management at AMITA Health Neurosciences. He explains that poor posture caused by poor ergonomics—aka staring at a computer all day or looking down at your iPhone—weakens your neck muscles and can cause tightness that results in neck pain. If you’ve ever experienced a pinched nerve, an injured cervical disc, or discomfort from arthritis, Dr. Dave says you run a higher risk of having ongoing neck troubles.
Your workouts may play a role.
If you’re someone who prioritizes fitness, you may run the risk of even more neck trouble. Dr. Haddad explains many people subconsciously clench their jaw while pushing through a burpee, a push-up, or another taxing workout move. Though common, if you hold tension here too often, you can develop muscle issues in your upper cervical area and shoulder girdle. “Head position can have a large effect on the entire body—especially in the jaw and neck. If your head is positioned just slightly forward, it is actually ten times heavier than if it is properly aligned on top of your spine,” he says. “Anything that causes a change in head position and neck curvature can lead to discomfort and neck pain.”
Dr. Dave also notes that many fitness beginners mean well by trying out various machine equipment to advance their skills. However, improper use of these can result in added stress. This is especially dangerous if you’re applying more pressure on your neck or head areas, such as on a lateral pull-down machine or similar device. Always be sure to consult the help of gym employees who can assist you as you get comfortable with the machines.
The good news though: There’s a solution. The better news: much of it is through movement and small tweaks that result in a big impact.
Improve your neck strength with yoga.
If you’re a big fan of heart-opening vinyasa flow to kick off your morning, you’re in luck. Yoga is one of the highest-recommended workout methods to strengthen and lengthen the neck muscles. Dr. Dave recommends indulging in this ancient practice often, but with a word to the wise: Pay special attention to form. As an example, he says to avoid turning your head in a shoulder stand and to listen to the instructor’s cue to ensure you’re keeping your spine aligned. This will help you avoid any common yoga injuries, particularly in the neck region.
Try meditation to ease tension in the neck.
No matter how hard you try, there will always be days when your stress level is higher than normal. The real danger occurs when those 24-hour periods turn into weeklong stretches. Dr. Dave says that coping mechanisms in the form of meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness will naturally encourage your body to release stiffness. This will naturally help release neck pain. As a bonus, these practices will also make you more aware of the areas in your body that are causing these feelings. Perhaps your lower back is flowing up to your spine, or you’re hunching over more than you realize. By being tuned-in to your limbs, you’re more likely to diminish or even put an end to your crick.
Use water to relax neck tightness.
Depending on where you live, you can take these strategies indoors or outdoors. Dr. Dave says, for those who can’t be as mobile or need a bit of H2O to relax, taking a swim in a heated pool will do wonders for your neck. You can sign up for an aerobic aqua-therapy class or move through a series of stretching motions in the water, he adds. Both methods will help increase your blood flow and improve your flexibility.