Natural Health Tips for Neck Pain
In my search for solutions to my chronic neck pain, I never found any single cure that completely eliminated the problem. What I did find were many different treatments that each helped a certain percent, and eventually those percentages added up. As I kept trying different pain prevention techniques and routines, keeping what worked and discarding what didn't, over time I was able to eliminate most of my pain.
I think the treatments that will help you the most depend on the cause of your pain. In my case my neck hurt because my shoulder was lower on that side. The whole neck and shoulder area were being pulled down and out of place be tighter and stronger muscles in my leg.
Pain will often crisscross across your body. If your neck hurts on one side, then is it likely that your hip or knee on the opposite side may also be in pain. The good news is that once you figure out where the lines of tension are in your body, you can "reverse engineer" them with muscle relaxing therapies targeted at the tension points.
The tips below are some of the ideas I found most useful.
1. The number one treatment that helped me was yoga. Below are the exercises from the yoga back and neck pain book, Back Care Basics by Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D., that I found the most helpful. The book is written by a doctor who used yoga to treat her own back pain, and now she teaches yoga to other medical professionals and patients. The book has a whole chapter on poses for a rounded upper back, forward head posture and neck pain.
The one shoulder up, one shoulder down yoga posture, page 155, is the pose I personally found the most effective. In my case, my neck pain was caused my a lowered shoulder, so to relieve the tension, I needed to raise my lowered shoulder up higher so it was not pulling down on my neck.
Other yoga poses that helped me from this book were:
I try to do a minimum of at least 20 minutes of yoga each day to keep my muscles balanced. Interestingly, one of the things that makes my neck hurt again is when I go for long walks. I believe this is because when I walk a lot my leg muscles get tightened up and eventually this tension migrates upward and pulls on my neck. Now I can still walk a lot if I want to - I just have to do a longer yoga session when I get home to loosen up my leg muscles.
2. I changed and improved my diet, especially to eat more magnesium rich foods. Magnesium is needed to release contracted muscles. Foods especially high in magnesium include whole grains, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables. For more on my diet changes to relax my muscles, see my section on my fibromyalgia diet.
3. Moist heat really
helped to reduce muscle tension for me. Warm showers and baths are a good
way to relax muscles. I try to do my stretching or yoga session right
after a shower or bath.
4. Hard Styrofoam rollers - I bought my rollers through my physical therapist, but I noticed they also sell them at our local Relax the Back store. I have a big foam roller that I lay on lengthwise that runs the length of my spine. I also have a smaller roller that I roll on with it running perpendicular to my spine. They both help to reduce muscle tension and elongate my spine and back muscles, like a rolling pin rolling out dough, only they are rolling out my tight muscles and overly tight connective tissue in my back. The big roller I roll on lengthwise is also good for correcting rounded shoulders.
5. Trigger point therapy turned out to be a surprisingly effective way of eliminating tension spots in my body. Interestingly, most of my trigger points were in my legs, even though the majority of my pain was in my jaw, neck, shoulders and back. By loosening up the tightest points in my legs, it helped relieve the downward pull on my back neck and shoulders that had been causing my pain. I went to a hand and arm clinic once and they gave me exercises that helped my shoulders and neck, but then my ankle started to get sprained very easily. It turns out that the clinic treatments had merely shifted the tension points in my body from my shoulder and neck to my legs, but had done nothing to reduce the overall tension in my body. They just showed me how to move it around. Yoga and trigger point therapy done over my whole body were more effective, because these treatments eliminated my pain, instead of just shifting the tension points.
Trigger points are tender areas where muscles are chronically tight from having been damaged over the years from factors such as falls, childhood ailments, poor posture, too much computer work, scoliosis and the stresses of daily life. By pressing on these points you can apply counter pressure and eventually eliminate them altogether. It works! If there is anything close to a miracle cure for neck and other types of pain this was it for me.
One thing that would really help is laying on a massage ball. This is a small ball I bought specifically for tight muscles. It has spines all over the outside that actually feel pretty good when they dig into your skin. I used to put the ball just below where my neck hurt and just lay on it for about 15 minutes. That would loosen up the tension in that area.
7. I changed my sleeping position. I used to sleep curled to one side in a "C" shape with one leg bent upward all night long. Initially I didn't know why I did this, I just knew it felt better to sleep that way. A massage therapist explained to me that I slept curled up because my muscles were shorter on that side of my body, so it felt good to put less pressure on them as I slept. In the long run, however, this was adding to my neck pain by keep those muscles shortened and not stretching them out. Since he explained this all to me, I now try to sleep more with both legs extended during the night. As a result, I have noticed less neck pain upon awakening.
8. I switched to a flatter pillow. My old pillow was too high, which caused my front neck muscles to shorten and my back neck muscles to become stretched out, making them unbalanced. By having a flatter pillow, it keeps my front and back neck muscles more aligned.
9. I try to move around a lot during the day, limiting how much time I spend on the computer at one time. I try not to stay on the computer more than a few hours in a row. If I do because of a because of a looming deadline for some project, then I try to balance that with more yoga, trigger point therapy and general stretching afterwards. My neck pain had been it's worst when I was taking a computer programming class that had 40 hours of home work a week, plus reading and classroom time.
That's a lot of hours of just sitting motionless. My arms basically froze in a forward and down position in front of me during that semester. It took a lot of work to even be able to lay flat on the floor with my arms outstretched. My arms would pull on my neck then and it would really hurt. Now I'm much more careful to keep moving during the day.
My physical therapist suggested I not take any more classes with that much work or such stringent deadlines. I heeded his advice and took shorter classes and work at your own pace classes after that. It worked out much better for limiting my neck pain.
10. I do the tennis ball on the wall treatment. A physical therapist told me about this. I put a ball in a sock, hang it behind me and roll against the wall. It's great for loosening up my back muscles and keeping them from pulling on my neck.
11. Besides yoga, there are a couple of general exercises I do to try to strengthen my weaker, lower shoulder which in turn helps to relieve tension on my neck. The main one is called side lying arm circles. These are similar to the arm circles most people are familiar with from high school gym class, but instead of standing, I do them lying on my side. By lying on my side when I do them, it puts less pressure on my neck, yet still strengthens and increases the flexibility in my right shoulder. I also do side lying shoulder circles. When I first started doing these exercises, I could feel that there was much more tension in my right shoulder than in my left. Over time this has evened out more as my muscles have become more balanced.
12. I bought a fanny pack to use instead of a shoulder strap purse that added weight to my shoulder. This took a lot of pressure off of my neck. For occasions when I could not use a fanny pack, I bought also bought a purse with two straps that I could wear like a backpack. This distributed the weight of the purse evenly across my shoulders caused less pain than a shoulder purse with a single strap.
Return to => Part I
Related sections of interest:
for Neck and Back Pain - selected poses from Health and Yoga.
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