How to Treat and Cure Your Stiff Neck or Shoulder to Ease the Pain
To treat and cure a stiff or painful neck or shoulder, we follow the upward progression in body awareness versus gravity. I have written other articles in which I began at the feet—which is the base or foundation of the whole body—and then worked our way up to the ankles, knees, pelvis, waist, torso, etc. In this article, regarding the neck and shoulder, we begin by exploring the base, or the shoulder area, to create a strong foundation that supports the neck and head. But first, what causes neck and shoulder pain in the first place?
What Causes Neck or Shoulder Pain?
The main cause of neck or shoulder pain is poor posture. You can treat and cure a stiff neck, frozen shoulders and upper back ache, even headaches and migraine by being well aware of your posture. There is no such thing as a short neck. We all possess 7 cervical vertebrae. A short neck is merely curved too deeply. The neck supports the head, so it obvious that if the head is carried too far in front of the body instead of directly above the spine, where it belongs, the muscles at the back of the neck are doing unnecessary overtime. Permanently tense and raised shoulders, poor sleeping habits, stress, or cold drafts also contribute to neck and shoulder pain. The overload in muscle tension just to hold your head up, but in the wrong way, can eventually escalate into chronic headaches and migraine. Oh dear, what to do, what to do?
First let us look at the shoulder area to create the strong base needed to help the neck support the head.
The main muscles that work the shoulders are the trapezius, the pectoralis (pecs) and the latissimus dorsi (lats) muscles; their job is to move the arm. Muscles work in a chain reaction fashion. When the arm rotates inward, it takes the shoulder with it. As this happens, the muscles at the front of the shoulder tighten while the muscles of the upper back become overstretched and weak. This results in:
- kyphosis with forward head posture
- tight muscles in the front of the shoulder
- weak muscles in the upper back
Anyone who works for long hours at a desk is prone to this imbalance.
Correct Position of the Shoulder Joint
While the pecs and the lats are primarily movers of the arm, the rhomboids at the back provide stability to the shoulder joint. As the pecs and lats work to rotate the arm inward the rhomboids in the upper back become weak. This causes the shoulder joint to go too far forward, out of its neutral alignment, beyond its range of safety. This can be avoided by strengthening the upper back, using the rhomboids. Get off your chair for a minute and do the following shoulder alignment move to feel the rhomboid muscles putting your shoulders back into their correct place.
- Stand up with the arms hanging loosely by your sides, like the sleeves of an empty coat.
- Rotate the wrists outward as far as possible.
- Release the rotation in the lower arm (turn your palms in towards your thighs from the elbow) BUT...
- Keep the shoulders and upper arm in the same place as in 2. above.
You should feel a widening and flattening of the area immediately in front of your shoulder, allowing the shoulder joint to be placed at the side of your body rather than in front of it. That is where your shoulder likes to live most comfortably.
Relax the Shoulders
Raised shoulders cause the curve in the back of the neck to be too deep. As you can see from the red line of gravity, the head is carried too far in front of the body. This puts unnecessary strain on the muscles of the neck. A shortened neck often causes headaches and migraine. A double chin also often appears when the head is not carried above the spine. Firstly loosen the shoulders with the "Arm-swings and Circles" moves below, then proceed to the neck exercises in the following section.
- Stand in a stable lunge position, the left foot in front and the right foot behind with the front leg bent and both heels on the floor.
- Swing the right arm up as far as you can until you feel the limit in the shoulder joint.
Swing the arm down and back, again as far as you can feel it stop in its joint.
Breathe in on the uplift and out on the down swing. Use momentum rather than force, allow the arm to drop as it goes down. Do about eight or more swings while increasing speed and momentum until you are sure that all the little crackly noises (stiffness) have gone from your shoulder joint.
Reverse the position of the feet and repeat with the left arm.
Half and Full Arm Circles
Full Arm Circles
Stand in the same position as in the previous sequence and now make continuous backward circles with your arm. Again, breathing in as you go up and breathing out as you go down. Begin slowly and increase the speed of the movement until your arm wants to circle quite fast to throw off all the tension; until you feel a tingling in your fingertips. If you look at your hand, it is quite red, full of blood. When you finish, hold the arm above the head and shake the hand to allow all the blood to flow back down again.
Change the position of your feet and repeat on the other side.
Note: Welcome any clicking or crunching noises in your shoulder as long as it doesn't hurt. All the above moves are oiling your rusty joints. After a few repetitions those noises soon vanish.
Once the shoulders are nicely loose and relaxed, proceed with neck alignment.
Neck Alignment for Good Posture
Over Curvature of the Neck
Get the photo album and find a picture of yourself in profile. Sorry, but if you carry your head as shown in the first picture above, you are in real trouble. When the neck is over-curved, the head is not aligned above the spine but has to be carried in front of the body. That takes a lot of effort and pain. Muscles turn into spasm and cause neck and shoulder tension, headaches and migraine. Help!
For Those Who Don't Like to Look Up
Often we suddenly look up, thereby increasing the over-curvature of the cervical vertebrae even more and begin to look like a vulture. Worse than being unsightly, a partly self-strangulated neck cuts off regular blood supply to the brain. A brain, hungry for blood containing oxygen and energy coming from the heart cannot think properly. Finding it difficult to look up also affects one's mood, morale, and attitude. Someone who can only look down is a negative person.
Where Your Neck Should Be
Anatomically, the skull is supported by the Atlas (the top cervical vertebra) centrally somewhere between the ears, in line with the central line of gravity. Then, when you look up, keep your neck long as shown above. Doesn't that look much better? Slowly do the following "yes, "no" and "maybe" exercise to achieve this.
Yes, No, and Maybe
These moves allow the neck to move in the three planes of motion, round the sagittal, transverse, and frontal axes which I prefer to call 'yes', 'no', and 'maybe'.
Caution before attempting neck exercises, you must establish the severity of your pain by consulting a physician or movement therapist.
- In the downward movement of the "yes" sequence aim to touch your breastbone with your chin. If the back of your neck is completely free of tension your chin should touch your breastbone when you look down - with your mouth closed (don't cheat!).
- On the upward movement of the "yes" sequence keep the back of your neck long as explained earlier.
Slowly repeat 1. and 2. for as long as the little noises inside your neck disappear.
Caution if you suffer from a posterior disc bulge avoid going too far down on this move as it would only increase the damage.
On the "No" sequence, keep the head central above the spine (between your shoulders. Try to see as far back behind you as you can on each lateral rotation but don't lift up your nose. Slowly repeat looking to the left and right until all the little noises inside your neck disappear.
On the "Maybe" sequence, drop your ear down towards the shoulder while keeping your nose facing the front.
Gently repeat each move eight times or more until all the little crunching noises in your neck have stopped.
Slowly roll the head around clockwise to see how much of your entire periphery you can see. Or, pretend a butterfly is flying around your head and try to follow it with your eyes. After about the third circle, you will notice that you can see a little further. There may still be some little noises going on in your neck. They will eventually disappear. When you've done about four or five rolls, repeat them anti-clockwise. For best results, head rolls may be done in a warm bath under water where your head is virtually weightless.
How Do You Sleep?
Certain sleeping conditions can give you a stiff neck. Make sure you don’t sleep in a cold draft as this will cause your neck muscles to contract during sleep. Avoid pillows that take the neck out of its neutral alignment. For example, if you are on your right side and the pillow is too large, the neck is vulnerable to being pushed too far towards the left shoulder. Then you might wake up with a stiff neck. Your pillow should be firm and no thicker than the space needed for your head to lie flat on its ear without curving up the other side of the neck.
To train yourself for a better sleeping position you may first want to learn how to meditate in a horizontal position on the floor. Lie on the floor (not on a bed) on your back and simply allow gravity to straighten you out while you relax. Close your eyes and meditate as shown in the illustration below.
Advanced Neck Lengthener
This video by Juliette Kando is, as it says in the introduction, only for people with good necks who want their necks to stay that way well into old age.
Huh, sorry but what's a "good neck"?
A good neck allows the body to lie comfortably supine on the floor (on your back) without a pillow.
The HeadWalk by Juliette Kando
No More Pain
In most cases of chronic pain, the pain is self-induced from poor movement habits. By slightly modifying your daily movement habits and patterns and being aware of the difference between "good movements" and damaging ones, you are on the road to healing yourself. Once your body can, as a habit, correct itself on an ongoing basis, there is no longer the need to spend extra time "exercising" as such. Just avoid making the wrong, damaging moves.
How Are You?
How Often Do You Have a Stiff Neck or Shoulders?
Voting Results Commentary
The above survey shows that 60% of the population have a chronic stiff neck (over-curvature) while only 1% never have any neck trouble at all. Help! What must we do?
The answer is simple. Ask the question: "What causes over-curvature of the spine and neck?
Gravity. So the final tip I have up my sleeve to prevent having a stiff neck, improve your posture, your looks, your mood, and productivity all at the same time is to use gravity to the body's advantage rather than its detriment. We reverse or invert gravity. Read on...
Ultimate Solution: A Gravity Inversion Table
The ultimate solution to chronic neck pain and stiffness, bad back, and general stress related chronic pain is, of course, the gravity inversion table. The bottom line is, if we have to reduce over-curvature, compression, and tightness in the whole skeleton, this can most easily and pleasantly be achieved in a completely passive way with gentle anti-gravity traction as shown in the next video.
Hanging Upside Down to Lengthen the Neck
Checklist to Cure a Stiff Neck or Shoulder
Just remember this checklist on how to prevent, treat and cure your stiff neck or shoulder. Then your pain will soon ease away.
- Re-align your shoulders so they are at the side of your body and not in front.
- Retract the head so it sits above the spine (between the shoulders) and not in front of it.
- Keep the chin down.
- Perform the “yes, no and maybe” exercise at least once a day or whenever you feel stiff in the neck.
- Perform the slow head rolls at least once a day or whenever you feel stiff in the neck. Don’t wait until your neck hurts so much you don’t want to move it.
- Check your sleeping habits and use of pillows as described above.
- Buy a gravity inversion table to straighten you out. No more osteopath bills, no more pain.
The exercises and tips given above will help you attain a level of physical consciousness and awareness to treat and cure a stiff neck or shoulder to ease the pain forever. For more useful insights, questions, tips and solutions from live case studies similar to yours, please follow the comment thread below.