Yoga is the perfect tonic for neck and shoulder pain but the answer isn’t just giving the area a good stretch.
Take a moment to think about the following:
After you have had a good old neck and shoulder stretch does the relief last for long?
I imagine that the answer to the question ‘no’
The truth is that stretching out the neck and shoulders is just the tip of the iceberg if we are searching for long-term neck and shoulder problems.
We also have to take time to strengthen and realign our muscles too.
Yoga For Neck and Shoulder Pain
Yoga is a great tool for realigning, strengthening and stretching so is perfect for helping us manage neck and shoulder pain.
Before I get going it is always a good idea to learn a little bit about why neck and shoulder pain occurs in the first place (and I imagine that you already have a good idea about this).
In my view, there are two main reasons why we get neck and shoulder pain.
- We sit and move less.
- We are at the mercy of tech.
The two together are causing a modern phenomenon – forward head posture or text neck.
Take a look below:
The picture is funny– I mean if anyone’s head is actually going to fall to the ground if we let it fall forward too much!
However, it does have a serious message.
The thing is, your head is meant to sit directly on top of your spine.
Nature has designed the curves of our spine so beautifully that when everything is in place – including our head – we are supported from the ground up. We are able to move around with ease and in perfect balance from the pull of gravity.
When we move out of this perfect balance and relationship with gravity it causes problems.
When the head goes forward from its happy place a few things start happening.
- Firstly, the upper back and shoulder muscles find themselves working hard to keep the head up but are being overstretched at the same time because the weight of the head is pulling downwards towards the floor.
- Secondly, as the head drops forward the front of the chest and shoulders become shorter and tighter causing slumped or round shoulders.
- Thirdly, everything that is happening above in the upper back area ricochets down to the lower back. If the curves change above they have to change below too so that we can still navigate the pull of gravity without being pulled over. This can lead to lower back pain and core weakness (amongst other things).
If you want to dive deeper I wrote another blog post on this a while back. You can access it here.
So, what is the big deal?
Well, going back to the shoulder, neck and upper back muscles when they are already working overtime and being overstretched at the same time, the last thing that is going to help them is being stretched even more. This is why stretching feels good for the short term but does nothing long term to get rid of the pain. To get effective relief we need to strengthen the neck and shoulder area too.
When the chest and front shoulder muscles get tight then this aggravates everything further and our neck and shoulder pain gets worse over time. These are the areas that need a good stretch to open them up and take the pressure off the upper back and neck.
It would be good to note here that when we suffer from neck and shoulder pain we often also suffer from lower back pain too. Sometimes that pain will transcend into the knees and the ankles too.
Text neck (as well as the aches and pains described above) is also linked with these other health issues:
- Numbness in the arms and hands
- Difficulty or inefficient breathing (the nerves which control breathing pass via the neck)
- Pinched nerves
Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain – my favourite yoga moves.
From my experience working with my own body and with my private yoga students over the years, to get rid of neck and shoulder pain we need to focus on the following:
- Reset the posture (balance out the upper and lower back)
- Release the neck and shoulder muscles and then strengthen them.
- Release and stretch the muscles in the front body (e.g. chest)
Rest and realign (improve the posture)
Grab a rolled–up mat – keep it rolled and lie it vertically along another yoga mat or a carpeted floor.
- Sit close to one end of the roll and lie down so that your spine runs directly along the roll of the mat. For most people, the head will rest on the mat. If you are really tall or have a long trunk you may find that you need to pop your head on a block or pillow if necessary. The whole body including your head must be supported.
- Lie here for a few minutes.
- Gravity will help improve your posture here and help your neck move back into alignment.
Make sure that your chin is neither tilting up to the sky nor pointing down to the chest. It needs to be neutral. Check in the mirror if you are not sure. As an aid, the back of the neck should feel like it is lengthening and there should be no tension in the front of the neck.
Simple Neck & Shoulder Strengthener
- Lie down on the mat with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- You can lie with your head on a blanket, just make sure that the chin is level with the floor (as above)
- From here, see if you can lift up your head only with your neck muscles.
- Notice if you use your shoulders. You must only lift with the neck muscles alone. This is harder than you think so try it a few times and don’t worry if it takes a while to get it sussed.
- Try turning the head to the right and little it off the floor. Repeat turning your head to the left.
This move is basically a modified yoga push–up against the wall. It is the perfect way to strengthen the muscle around the upper back and shoulder area
- Stand facing a wall.
- Raise your arms and place the palms on the wall at shoulder height.
- Whilst gently pressing the finger pads into the wall play with these two actions
- Draw the arm bones into the socket
- Hug the backs of the upper arms towards one another whilst gently drawing the inner shoulder blades together. These actions will help bring the shoulder blades onto the ribs.
- From here root down into the feet, lengthen the tailbone to the floor and gently draw the front ribs in.
- Inhale and bend the elbows until the forearms land on the wall.
- Exhale straighten the arms again.
- Make sure you squeeze the inner arms towards one another at all times and avoid hiking the tops of the shoulders towards the ears.
My Favourite Stretch
Prone Chest Stretch
This pose may look a little hard to get into but please don’t be discouraged. It is actually very accessible; the trick is to move slowly and take your time moving in and out.
- Lie on your belly (prone) and stretch the arms out in a t-shape at shoulder height.
- Bend the right arm and come onto the tip of your fingers. Push down and roll to your left side
- As you roll, bend the right leg and place the right foot on the floor; leave the left leg out long
- In this position, you are stretching out the left side of your chest.
- To increase the stretch push down more into the right ‘tippy’ fingers but please be careful not to overdo it. You do not want to ‘overstretch’ the left shoulder and chest area.
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