Many people during their lifetime will suffer from neck pain. Whether it is chronic or just a passing ache, neck pain is extremely common, people of all ages across many different walks of life. It very often limits people as to what they can do on a daily basis and can even become chronic and so bad, that depression can set it as a direct result of the ongoing pain.
To truly cure neck pain and relieve stiffness, we need to start from the base and follow the upward progression of body awareness versus gravity. The base of the body being the feet, working our way up through the knees, pelvis, below the shoulder and the overall alignment of the spine itself.
You can try to treat the neck pain itself all you want, but you aren’t going to get anywhere if the root causes are not addressed. I want to share with you the information that we are sharing every day with people visiting our clinic, on how to deal with the root causes of neck pain. Giving you a step by step process to follow, which will cover every aspect of the causes of neck pain.
So What Exactly Causes Neck Pain?
The main cause of neck pain and stiffness is poor posture. This doesn’t often come as a surprise when I talk to people about it but it may well do to you. But what people don’t understand is the chain reaction that causes the visibly poor posture. Admittedly it isn’t always immediately obvious but very often its clear to see.
Before I get started with the root causes of poor posture, I just want to touch on a few other causes of neck pain and stiffness that are not considered as the primary issues in most cases, however they are still contributors. As such I will be going over further strategies you can put into place to rectify these issues.
- Sleeping in a draft
- Poor sleeping position
- Stress (hint: this is a big one!)
- Diet (although not a direct cause it is still a contributor to the intensity of the pain)
- High and tense shoulders
Now we get to the nitty gritty. One thing I want to do first is clear up a popular myth. Personally I think it’s an excuse some people use to account for not looking after their posture but regardless, you need to know.
Often people say they have a “short neck”. This is just not true as we all have 7 cervicle vertebrae in our spines. The reason the neck would appear to be short is that the curve is much deeper in those people suffering than someone who has good posture.
The result of this exaggerated curvature is the neck muscles working much harder than they should. This is because the head is not sat directly on top of the atlas bone, causing the neck muscles to support most of the weight of your head. The equivalent of hanging a bowling ball from your neck!
So what can we do about this?
The muscle groups that move the shoulder are the trapezius muscles, which are those muscles you can feel when you move your head up and down and side to side. Your pectoralis major and minor (the chest muscles). And the latissimus dorsi (the back muscles, aka the “wings”. I have included this chart to help you out with these muscles. Its slightly less complicated than the usual anatomy charts!
So, as the arms start to rotate inwards, the shoulder becomes tighter and tighter at the front. These are called the front deltoids. As the shoulders begin to curve forwards the muscles of the upper back become over stretched and weak. This is where the problem begins. It leaves people with problems like:
- The head stuck in the “forward” position
- Kyphosis of the upper back (hunchback)
- Lack of blood supply to the arms and hands
- Impingements in the shoulder
- People working at desks all day are particularly prone to this, causing neck and upper back pain
What we now need to do is work on bringing the shoulder back into alignment with the rest of the body, thus relieving the tension in the neck and other areas. Here are some of the best exercises to utilize – These can be done anywhere!
These exercises should be completed on a DAILY basis. At the end of the day rehabilitation of any area of the body is about consistency. It’s no different to losing weight, if the whole issue isn’t addressed and there’s no consistency on your part, then you will always suffer with problems.
Some Other Key Exercises
Another great way of engaging the muscles of the upper back, (Rhomboids in particular) is with this simple exercise. Note the finishing point of the exercise is where the shoulder is supposed to sit:
- Draw the shoulder blades back and down
- Pinch together and hold for 5 seconds
This exercise is similar to that which I have included in the videos. The difference is that is for more of an engagement purpose.
Lower Those Shoulders!
A common contributor towards the excessive curve in the spine of the neck (cervicle) is the raising of the shoulders. What this does is cause the head to be forced into the forward position. This not only limits movement but it also causes inflammation in the area because of that range of motion being limited.
A great way to loosen those shoulders and encourage them to relax more, is this very useful swinging motion exercise.
Simply relax the arms and begin to swing them to chest height. Once you reach the chest you let the gravity take your arm down and bring it back as far as possible.
It is important to keep your arms relaxed the entire time during the movement.
Follow The Butterfly Neck Roll
Now, the last two exercises I have shown you should be done throughout the day. There aren’t really any excuses as they are incredibly easy to do!
This exercise is called “follow the butterfly” because it’s as if you are following a butterfly around in circles above your head.
You simply allow your neck and head to relax and begin to roll it around in circles. This will lubricate the joint and also promote the movement in the neck muscles. This should be done whenever a small amount of pain or discomfort begins to set in. Do NOT wait until your neck is so sore that you don’t want to even move it.
Let’s Talk About Nutrition..
Now I confess this may seem weird including dietary advice as part of a rehabilitation post. But trust me when I say that diet can HUGELY affect the level of pain you experience.
Let’s take a look at how this can happen. Stay with me on this because it could well be the missing link between being pain free and suffering..
Recent advancements in medicine have allowed hundreds of severe conditions to be corrected. However, muscle and joint pain is an exception because hundreds of millions of individuals experience the conditions on a day-to-day. In fact, the most recent evidence shows that nearly one-third of the population reported that their daily activities were limited because of their muscle or joint pain. This universally known problem can be corrected by simply introducing these individuals to a diet for pain relief.
The starting point:
There are essentially two separate aspects of treatment when it comes to creating a diet for pain relief. The first aspect of treatment involves the root problems, which are weight management and the balancing of day-to-day meals. The second aspect of treatment is the actual foods that make up the diet. With that being said weight management is the starting point. Weight management is crucial because excess weight puts extreme pressure on the entire body and not enough weight leaves the body susceptible to muscle and joint deterioration. This means the first step is to decide whether one needs to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain weight.
Knowing the number:
Once that is decided the question becomes something along the lines of “what should be consumed to reach that goal?” It all boils down to calories being consumed versus calories being used. One can figure out their calories they utilized in a day by finding their innate rate of calorie usage (basal metabolic rate). That number can be calculated using online methods, formulas, or by seeking out professional advice. All methods will take one’s weight, height, age, and activity level into consideration. Once those are all pieced together an individual will be given a number that represents how many calories they burn in a day. Consuming that many calories will allow one to maintain their weight. More calories will result in weight gain, and fewer calories will lead to weight loss.
A truly balanced diet:
At this point, one should be aware of the number of calories they need in a day. The next step is to balance those calories in terms of macronutrient (fat, protein, and carbohydrates). This is important because an individual need’s to avoid copious amounts of carbohydrates. For example, one could get all their calories from donuts. That would result in their joint pain and muscle pain being amplified.
The first thing to figure is fat. Fat is typically 25% of all calories. Next is protein. Protein represents roughly 0.68-1 gram per pound of lean body weight. Those that are lifting weights or doing any activity that breaks down a significant amount of muscle would be wise to consume roughly 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. All the other individuals could find the amount of protein that worked for their specific body type. Lastly, there are carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are found by just taking the leftover calories and dividing them by 4. The micronutrient aspect of a diet consists of vegetables. Vegetables are not a huge amount of carbohydrates, protein, or fat, which is why one is wise to pick the vegetables they like and eat them on a day-to-day basis.
At this point, the question is “What specific foods need to be consumed to reach the previously mentioned percentages?” Additionally, the question is “What foods will eliminate joint pain and muscle pain?” All of the foods below can answer both of those questions because they are a significant source of macronutrient/micronutrients and because they have been shown to eliminate both muscle pain and joint pain:
Cantaloupe, papaya, apples, grapes, fish, anchovies nuts, garlic, curry, chile peppers, cinnamon, broccoli, eggs, asparagus, green tea, kale, kiwi, mushrooms, onions, oranges, pineapple, spinach, water, acai berries, almonds avocados, bananas, beetroot, cauliflower, chia seeds, chocolate, chlorella, ginger, lemon, mangos, mangosteen, maqui berries, pomegranate, quinoa, resveratrol, rooibos tea, royal jelly, and spirulina.
The Psychology of Becoming Pain Free
What is pain? We generally understand the feeling of pain as a response to stimuli doing damage to our bodies. For instance, pain could be caused by damaging external factors or disease that is causing damage from within. However, experiencing pain is not as straightforward as previously believed — studies have shown that the feeling of pain is filtered through subjective processing mechanisms and can differ from person to person. In other words, how much pain we feel also depends on our psychology and our particular circumstances. There are many factors that go into determining our experience of pain, so when devising a way to cope with different types of pain, it’s also very important to take the psychology of pain into account.
Pain — whether it is long-standing chronic pain or the pain caused by a small cut or bruise — is a complex sensory experience that generally proceeds in two phases. During the first stage, the nerves that sense pain send a signal to your brain, where you become conscious that a painful experience has taken place. This stage is the same in most people and is a relatively straightforward process. During the second phase, however, your brain is in charge of processing the painful experience. This usually takes place in the part of the brain that deals with emotions and tends to differ significantly between different people and even the same people at different times.
The way you process pain depends on your particular emotional and biological traits — different factors can contribute to how intensely a person experiences pain. Anxiety and depression, for instance, are some of these factors. Studies show that people who are depressed or experience anxiety are generally more prone to feeling greater levels of pain. Even certain genetic and cultural factors have been known to play a role in our perception of how much we hurt — certain geographies and people tend to be more sensitive to pain than others.
Finally, on top of our personal predispositions to feeling pain in different ways, social circumstances can also impact our perceptions of pain. For example, studies have found that people tend to report lesser levels of pain in the presence of a loved one or a romantic partner, while they generally report higher levels of pain when surrounded by strangers.
Psychological treatments and pain management
Understanding the psychological aspect of pain is the first step toward implementing correct pain management techniques, especially when it comes to chronic pain. While the importance of treating pain through established medical treatments — such as pain medication, physical therapy and rehabilitation — should not be undermined and is definitely the basis for treating the physical symptoms of pain, it’s also crucial to take the role of psychology seriously.
There are many different ways in which pain can be treated on an emotional or cognitive level. In general, your psychologist might be able to offer personalized advice about ways in which you could manage your pain and your particular medical condition. Is your pain exacerbated by your stressful lifestyle? Could physical activity or meditation help you in managing or alleviating some of your symptoms? Perceptions of pain can be altered through techniques such as meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy and other types of mental conditioning which can re-wire the way that pain is processed on a psychological level.
Practical advice for pain management
If you would like to incorporate an understanding of the psychology of pain into your personal pain management approach, you might want to take the following into consideration
- Employ a personalized approach
Your psychologist plays an important role in helping you devise an effective pain management strategy. Each person is different and will respond differently to psychological pain management approaches. For example, while some people respond well to mindfulness techniques, others will respond better to cognitive behavioral therapy. Consult with your psychologist for a personalized approach.
- Most common techniques
Some of the most useful techniques in the field of the psychology of pain management are different yoga-related exercises, relaxation techniques, as well as breathing and visualisation exercises.
- There are different types of pain
While every type of pain you experience is bound to have a psychological element to it, it is nevertheless important to keep in mind that there are different types of pain that require different types of psychological treatment. In order to find the best treatment possible, make sure that your psychologist is aware of the full extent of your symptoms.
A Final Word & Some Sound Advice
If you made it all the way through this mammoth post, awesome. Because it means that I have truly got through to you and the chances are you are now armed with the necessary information to oust your neck pain. Maybe you have other ailments of a similar nature, well what you know now can certainly help with other problems which often arise from poor posture, diet and other things I have talked about here.
I need you to know right now though, this is only the beginning. Becoming pain free from any issue takes time. Your body is a complicated machine and repairs are ongoing. Like anything, getting results takes time and commitment. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel great a few weeks down the line. Persistence is key and I can’t say it enough.
However, if you take each part of this post seriously and act on them accordingly, I guarantee that you are going to feel miles better. You have the power to get rid of your neck pain and any other pain you are experiencing in your life. We are here to help as well so just know you are NOT alone.
(If you have found this post to be beneficial then please spread the word by hitting those social media buttons. There are so many people out there suffering, so let’s help everyone out and get them this information as well!)
– Joe Searle
Health and fitness professional and
Owner of Peak Performance Therapy & Rehab
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