Do you carry stress in your neck? I do.
Nagging pain in your neck can come from muscles surrounding the shoulder blade, base of the skull, and cervical spine. Some muscles are tight and stiff while others are too loose and weak. The cause for your specific issue can be complex and my recommendation is to see a qualified specialist to help relieve your pain. Understanding some of the muscles surrounding the neck may give your a better understanding on where to focus your exercises and stretches.
The Cervical Spine
The cervical spine (c-spine) is comprised of 7 vertebrae starting with C1 at the base of the skull and ending with C7. An easy way to feel C7 is to rub your finger down the back of your neck until you feel the first big bump. That’s the spinous process of C7. Muscles on each side of the c-spine can become tight from bad posture, stress, and overuse. Multiple muscles in this region connect to the shoulder blade, skull, and other parts of the spine. Muscles in this area tend to get tight from our heads leaning forward too often for extended periods of time. Light massages and stretches can help but the best fix is awareness of your posture. Instead of pulling your skull backwards try imagining a thread connected to the top of your skull pulling you up to a tall upright position. Being aware of my static positions and getting into better posture throughout the day has helped me alleviate some stiffness around my spine.
The Skull and Upper Ribs
Muscles that connect to the base of the skull can pull the shoulder into pour position leading to neck tightness. This usually happens to me when my sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles are tight, again from my head leaning forward too much but also from excessive overhead pressing. These muscles can also be overused when you are chest breathing too often. They connect from the base of the skull and c-spine to the clavicle (collarbone), first and second ribs and help lift and expand the rib cage during respiration. Learning to breathe downward into the belly can help reduce the stress put on these muscles. Relaxing my clavicle downward and breathing into my belly as well as light massages and stretching of the sternocleidomastoid can help reduce my neck pain.
The Shoulder Blade (Scapula)
There are 3 main muscles responsible for moving the shoulder blade. The trapezius, rhomboids, and the levator scapulae. Tightness and weakness in some of these areas can cause pain that radiates towards the neck, mostly because the trapezius and the levator scapula connect to the base of the skull. Most commonly seen is the shoulder blade rotating forward which causes the rhomboids to stretch and weaken. The trapezius and levator scapulae then become tight from poor posture, poor mechanics during exercise, or stress. Gentle massaging and stretching of the trapezius and levator scapula muscles can help them relax. Clearing up some movement mechanics can help you prevent further discomfort. Exercises aimed at strengthening the rhomboids will help hold the shoulder blade in position.
See a Pro
Please remember that this is not medical advice. The best person to see for your neck pain is a medical professional. My knowledge of anatomy helps me target certain muscles and experiment with different techniques to help reduce pain. Learning more about the muscles that surround your pain points can give you a new level of awareness. This awareness may lead to mindful breathing, proper exercise mechanics, conscious posture throughout the day, and better stretches.
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