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How To Get Rid Of A Stiff & Sore Neck

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 20 February 2017
Hits: 20630

All of us have experienced that awful stiff neck at some point in our life and know just how draining it can be to our bodies, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. Imagine being like that every day? With the use of computers becoming so much more prominent each year and the introduction of lap tops, IPADS and smartphones, the rise of chronic back pain along with neck and shoulder pain injuries is substantial. If the problem is left unattended, and you just put up with the pain, it can lead to severe injuries that are very difficult to treat and lead to other more serious problems. Disc bulges in the neck are becoming very common, and not just limited to old people. The first thing people normally do is take some anti inflammatory pills, perhaps get a massage and maybe do some stretches and hope it goes away. And while all this gives some relief, it is just a short term remedy. It is really just using a band-aid approach to treating a much bigger cut or bleed. In this article we are going to provide with the knowledge on how neck problems are created in the first place, so you can treat the "real problem", prevent the onset of chronic pain and get rid of it for good.

Removing The Pain Does Not Mean You Have Removed The Problem

What do I mean by that? As I mentioned in the introduction many people address their pain or injury by trying to remove the pain. This is true for all injuries, not just neck pain and is why so many people tend to go through life spinning their wheels going nowhere using this approach. Pain is a signal that something is not right and needs your attention. A bit like a smoke alarm in your house. Now if your smoke alarm started beeping it would not be wise to just remove the batteries to stop it beeping, without addressing why the alarm is going off. The alarm is warning us to address a potential fire that could kill us. But this is exactly what people do when they have a neck problem. The pain is just the signal to address a problem, and often it is nowhere near the area in pain, in this case the neck that the "real problem" lies.

In the 2017 summer Big Bash Cricket series, the superstar batsmen of the tournament was Chris Lyn who was suffering with a neck disc bulge. To keep playing he was using painkillers and getting physio treatment, to manage the pain so he could get back out on the field. He was able to play so well he was selected to the national side, but was only able to play one game due to the severity of his pain and eventually missed future games and tournaments as a result. Click here to read about the extent of his injury. A real shame for him to miss out on a great opportunity and this is an example of using short term fixes to deal with a much bigger problem.

You must treat the cause and not the symptoms! If your problem was caused from a car accident or a traumatic accident then your solution is slightly different to what I will show you in this article. But for 95% of neck problems they have evolved over time from poor habits and not from an accident. By the way the chance of developing a neck problem if you have a back problems is about 85%! So if you have a back problem now, brace yourself for pain if you do not address this.

And if you need proof that this can work make sure you read our article that features several case studies who did get rid of their problem for good - "Can You Get Rid Of Neck Pain Using Exercise"

Okay so how do you go about changing this? Where do you look? Where do you start? There is a lot to consider, and I like to use the process of elimination to narrow my search to finding the real problem. So let's get started.

If You Have A Neck Problem You Are Guaranteed To Have A Shoulder Problem!

What do I mean by that statement? For if the pain is in your neck surely it is just a neck problem, right? In almost every case of neck pain you can trace a problem at the shoulder complex as to where your pain, limited movement is coming from. The muscles that move your head, are also the same ones that lift your arms! Unfortunately it is not as simple as give you a stretch and do this exercise and it is all good. This problem can send you down the rabbit hole once you really start on the process of correcting dysfunction, as you will find there is a lot more to the shoulder than meets the eye. Read our article The 3 Key Factors Needed To Heal An Injured Shoulder.

Without a doubt the most difficult area to correct, and also one of the most painful and debilitating the longer the problem remains. The shoulder joint is extremely complex, and is very unique in that it is the most dynamic joint in the body, possessing incredible mobility to do amazing things like throw balls, do push ups etc. But this incredible mobility comes at a cost to our stability, in particular the scapula, and this is where many neck pain injuries will emerge. Lack of stability forcing stiffness in order to stabilize the joint begin to wear out soft tissue ligaments, tendons and cause tremendous pain. Getting a massage, or doing some stretches is not the answer. You will have to find better ways to stabilize this joint with exercises. But, you must be very careful here for if you choose the wrong one or do too many your attempts to correct things will make matters worse and give you, MORE PAIN!

Our extensive Shoulder Pain Report takes you through all the steps of how to do this. You can read more about what is involved in this program by clicking here or on the image below.

 

Okay so let's take a look at the individual steps to take and rule out as potential problems.

You Must Improve Your Posture

Now I can hear you groaning already saying you already know this and you have tried it and it didn't work. Poor positions of the body, mixed with long periods of time stuck in these poor positions is a perfect recipe for a neck or back problem. This also means that the correction is a combination of GOOD positions and habits mixed with TIME! The picture below shows good posture on the left and poor posture on the right that highlights the common posture imbalances we see with people suffering from neck problems. This is known as Upper Cross Syndrome and leads to Forward Head Posture.

The effects of this muscle imbalance between the trunk flexors (your abs) and trunk extensors (your back muscles) creates a chain reaction of problems. As the abdominal musculature become progressively stronger than the back muscles, the following postural imbalances may be seen:

  1. Short and tight upper abdominal musculature
  2. Depressed sternum
  3. Forward head
  4. Increased thoracic kyphosis, (a hump on the upper back known as Dowagers Hump)

This type of posture is very common and usually associated with lower back pain and disc bulges! This is due to the development of a "flat back" and loss of your spine's natural curve. This can progress to a C-shaped spine, and severely altered spinal mechanics. The C-curve posture encourages degenerative changes in the spinal column, not to mention that it increases your chances of neck pain as your head moves further and further forward.

"Every inch your head moves forward it doubles itself in weight!"

This means your neck muscles which are designed to hold a head, that on average weighs about 5-7kg for most people, now needs to hold a head that weighs 15-20kg! This is the basic laws of levers. These neck muscles are now forced into working excessively hard, ALL DAY! They can never stop for if they become weak you will not be able to look forward, and ultimately function as a human. They learn quickly that the only way to keep your eyesight looking forward is to shorten themselves and become good at doing it.

It is recommended getting a thorough postural assessment from a well qualified therapist or trainer. We use several tests to do this that give us great insights into any potential problems. More on this later but you can read about this in our article Posture Is Everything.

The most concerning issue arising from postural faults and imbalance, is not just the area in pain but the risk of further more serious injury in other areas in the body and loss of balance. This is due to the loss of stability and balance. The body will use many protective methods resulting from instability that in turn creates loss of balance and rotation. For example a forward head posture will increase the thoracic spine kyphosis restricting your ability to rotate, which in turn restricts your balance as you are now limited to correct yourself when you need it. Okay so it is obvious the solution is to correct your posture. But before you can do that, you need to find out why you adopted this poor posture in the first place! Remember I said you have to find the cause. There is 2 common reasons for this and they are the first 2 things to address.

1. Assess Your Breathing

What does breathing have to do with neck pain you might be thinking? It has everything to do with it. Read our article "Do You Know How To Breathe Correctly" to see just how important this is and just how many muscles, organs and systems in the body are affected by how your breathe! We find 95% of all neck pain people are poor breathers! They often adopt a method of breathing similar to an asthmatic having an asthma attack by using their shoulders and neck to create respiration. They are often mouth breathers or at best heavy chest breathers, and very poor diaphragm (belly) breathers. There is no point in doing any stretches, exercises or getting massage or chiropractic treatment while your breathing is dysfunctional. You are going to take on average 20-25,000 breaths per day so getting it right is critical. Learning to breathe through the nose and how to effectively use your diaphragm prevents you from using your shoulder and neck muscles to breathe. Yoga, meditation and Tai Chi are great methods to use here.

For such a simple tip it is so powerful. I cannot tell you how many people have resolved their problem from learning to do this alone!

2. Avoid Sitting Too Long & Make Sure Your Workstation Is Set Up Correctly

Without a doubt sitting is the biggest cause of many problems and for many chronic neck pain sufferers it is almost impossible to do as it brings on their pain straight away and aggravates their condition. This has also become worse in the past 15-20 years with more and more of us using computers, and stuck in sedentary jobs requiring us to sit all day. First thing to do is to avoid being stuck sitting for too long without a break. Take at least a 1-2 minute break to get out of your chair and free up your hips, spine and pelvis at least every 10 minutes. Using stretches regularly throughout the day can help counter the damage of sitting. Below is a video of an Office Workout to show you how easy this is to do. I do this in a shirt and tie to demonstrate that you don't need gym equipment or even designate a workout time to get it done. Just do it regularly throughout the day to counter the build up of time sitting still.

What about workstation set up? Again this is very important to get right and I suggest you go to our article "The Dangers Of Sitting To Your Health" for a full explanation with pictures and instructions on how to do this. Below is an example of how to set up your chair and mouse.

The problem with that is that these days is that many people do not even use a workstation! The use of smartphones, tablets and laptops mean people are in an even worse position than before. Constant flexing of the neck and sitting in very flexed and uncomfortable positions for extended periods it is just a matter of time before a neck problem arises. My advice is to make sure you set up your laptop in a correct position and avoid sitting in poor positions as much as you can when using your phone or tablets. This is why neck pain is on the rise and will continue to be until we address the real issue. Smartphones, tablets are here to stay, we just need to be aware of the potential dangers and find ways to make using these devices safely.

3. Improve Thoracic Extension & Mobility

The first two steps are really about treating the cause of the problem, now we are about to begin treating the effects of this cause which in turn creates the stiffness in the neck. The thoracic spine (upper back) plays a critical role in ensuring the shoulder and neck have optimal range of movement, mobility and stability. When the thoracic spine is limited it severely stiffens the neck and the trunk. If it remains untreated it loses it's ability to extend itself, a bit like losing it's memory. The big problem here is it is very hard to stretch, it really needs manipulation, massage and mobility work. This is where the chiropractor, physio and massage therapist can really do great work. You cannot rely on them though you will need daily exercises to help ensure it remains free. Often it will reset back to the default position within 24 hours of a treatment so if you can use simple exercises using foam rollers and mobility techniques like Feldenkrais you have a better chance of remaining mobile.

It is important to use mobility exercises before stretching for the stretches will be a waste of time if the thoracic spine cannot extend itself. Below is a great video of how to do some thoracic mobility exercises. These are great for golfers by the way as it increases their rotation for the back swing so we use these at time for golf performance as much as neck and back pain!

4. Stretching & Self Massage

A good health therapist will prescribe these for you and as we said before you need to mobilize first. If the thoracic spine remains stiff there is no point to the stretches for the spine and rib cage cannot get in the right place for you to execute the stretching correctly. The common tight areas needing to stretch are often the pecs, levator scapula, upper traps and the upper abdominal area. Remember the picture at the beginning, this shows you where the tight muscles are. Also do not discount the role the hip muscles play here. Tight hips often cause the pelvis to tilt too far forward and end up forcing the upper back into a rounded position. A bit like bending a rubber hose. Can you begin to see how just treating the neck is often a pointless exercise that goes nowhere.

Below is a video showing explaining how to design a stretching program and also Four Key Shoulder Stretches you can use.

As for self massage there are many tools you can use to assist you with this. Foam rollers and trigger point tools are great. Sometimes stretching will not be enough to release a trigger point and you will need to use some massage type techniques. The key to these working however is you MUST FOLLOW UP WITH STABILITY drills straight after doing it. Otherwise the body will just reset back to the way it was. It does not know any other way to stabilize. Have you ever wondered why the massage that felt so good yesterday and relieved all your tension has just gone the very next morning. This is why. Below is 2 videos of self massage drills you can use but make sure you keep reading as you will still need to do the stability and strength exercises coming up!

5. Improve Stability

Now we are at the stage where we can introduce exercises. Again it is VERY IMPORTANT to do these. I see so many people rely on just the massage, physio or chiropractor work to fix them only for them to be back to where they were in a few days time. The health practitioner may be doing a great job in releasing the tight muscles and trigger points, unfortunately the person has not enough stability or strength to counter the tight overworking muscles, so inevitably they fall into poor posture the minute they leave after their treatment. Stability exercises do not necessarily mean you need to balance on a BOSU ball and do heaps of circus stunts, but instead teach the pelvis, shoulder and neck joints small stabilizer muscles, how to provide good body position for movement. Using exercises like the Horse Stance and Forward Ball Roll are great examples of stability for the shoulder and spine. Click here to read our article - Stability Training What It Really Means & How To Do It for comprehensive instructions and examples of the best stability exercises.

Without doubt one of the best exercises you can begin using is the wall slides drills shown below. These are great exercises for teaching correct scapula movement and encouraging good mobility with stability. This sets you up for the next stage which is strengthening and where you can hold all of your adjustments together.

6. Strength Training

Notice that this is the last step and not the first. It is important not to skip the previous steps for if you do you will create more pain and more problems! It is also important to get to this stage too! As mentioned a few times already most people stop at step 3 and wait for the health practitioner to "fix them". Our bodies are constantly fighting against gravity and need the strength of our extensor muscles to do this. Using exercises to help them remain strong and last long periods of time can reap massive rewards. Many older adults skip this stage but we find this is of more benefit to them than any of the other stages as they have lost so much muscle and strength. Nothing will change until the try reverse this trend and add some much needed strength to weak, ageing body. Read our article Strength Training For Older Adults for more information on this.

Understand this: "If there is tight muscles needing to be loosened and weakened, there is also weak lazy muscles that need to be tightened and strengthened"

This is why people so many people never truly get rid of their problem and just manage the pain. They are only halfway with their rehab program. In terms of strength training exercises to do it can get very tricky and it is difficult to give you the exact exercises for your body. It takes a detailed assessment to find this out. Generally you are wanting to use exercises that provide "extension of the trunk" like the deadlift and prone cobra. You cannot forget that you need to encourage rotation of the thoracic spine as well and some of the best for doing this are movements that activate the myofacial slings with cable push and pull exercises. And lastly you want to include something to develop strength in the weak muscles of Serratus Anterior and Lower Trapezius. These two muscles work together to provide great posture of the rib cage and maintain your head in a neutral position and prevent the unwanted straining and tension of the neck. Below is some exercise methods you can use to help you, but understand there is so many ways this can go.

For the length of this article it is hard for me to cover all of these exercises and how to do them. I highly recommend getting either the Shoulder Pain Report or our Back Pain Secrets Video and Ebook that shows you how to do everything we have covered in this article with over 60 exercises and a 6 month program with step by step instructions. Click here to see more.

Other Resources To Help You

You can also get our Free Report on Functional Training below or our Little Black Book PDF report has chapters devoted to Posture and Back/Neck Pain.


Conclusion

I hope you have been able to find where you need to work the most. For some it is making some changes to how much they sit down, changing habits with their phone use and lap top set up. Others it is all about trying to improve their mobility and overall strength. For many older people strength and mobility is a big problem as the ageing process has weakened their muscles and bones so much that their posture has worsened to a point where it becomes permanent! You never want to get to this stage as it is almost impossible to reverse when it has deteriorated this far. If you can do something about your posture and movement now, you must get started. Stop relying on people to fix you, and start taking responsibility for your body by using the strategies shown in this article.

If you live in Melbourne and would like to schedule a free Postural assessment fill in the form below and I will be in touch within 24 hours to organize a time.