Do you have a pain in the neck?
If so, join the numerous others who store stress in the muscles located in the neck and shoulder area. How you sit and work plus the actual weight of your head can literally wear you down. The aching sensation can be excruciating.
If you have trouble turning your head in certain directions or experience pain that gets worse in certain positions, the muscles in your neck and shoulder region are probably tight, stiff, and may even spasm.
Sometimes, neck pain is the result of an injury that inflames tissues and strains muscles. But emotional stress can cause pain from such an injury to linger after the physical trauma has healed. This is called stress-induced neck pain.
A study from Norway linked pain and “perceived general tension.” Researchers could find no relationship between neck pain and a low but constant level of activity in the trapezius muscles that stretch from the back of neck out to the upper shoulders. In some ways, this is good news because of the word “perceived.”
Because stress is an emotional reaction, this is within your control. First, list all the things in your life that bring you stress. Just making a list and looking at it can be therapeutic. If there are items on the stresses-me-out list that you can control, make some adjustments. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do to ease some stressors, like the morning commute traffic or a choleric baby.
Attitude is key to feeling unstressed. This includes realizing that some sources of emotional stress are within your control to change. For example, if you steam and think unkind thoughts about other drivers, try a safe distraction like listening to an audiobook. Or – and this is pretty radical – just stop fretting.
Adjust your mental attitude to acceptance and tolerance, even if you don’t like the situation you are in. Sing a song you like or make one up to channel your negative energy into something more positive. Decide not to be upset.
Sometimes, it’s tough to stay positive, of course. But give it a whirl and see what happens. Reset your expectations from CAN-DON’T to CAN-DO.
The other truly helpful activity for mental relaxation is meditation. Intentionally calming and centering your thoughts and emotions on a regular basis can help you keep your cool when things heat up around you.
There are physical treatments, too. Get immediate relief from alternately applying heat and ice packs purchased from any pharmacy. Follow the instructions on the package.
Or you can make your own heat packs by filling a sock with raw rice, pinning or sewing it shut, putting it on a microwave-safe plate, and heating it for a minute or so. BE VERY CAREFUL when you touch the heat pad because it may be hotter than you expect. Adjust your microwave settings and increase or decrease the heating time as needed. Substitute a wet washcloth for the rice bag if you prefer a damp heat.
Make a cold pack by wetting a washcloth, folding it up, and freezing it – – or wrap some ice cubes in a washcloth and secure it with rubber bands. Substitute a water bottle for cloth if you prefer.
Soak yourself in a warm bath with added Epsom salts. Ahhhh. Deepen your relaxation with soothing music, low light, and a favorite scent (aromatherapy) dropped into the water.
Yoga is like meditation with some physical activity added on for good measure. Essentially, yoga is stretching and holding poses so the muscles can relax. Simply bending over from a standing or seated position is doing yoga. Chanting mantras (repetitive phrases) is optional.
Massage is also excellent for relieving muscle tension and emotional stress. If you can’t visit a professional, there are many physical stretches and exercises you can do yourself, in the comfort of your home, car, or office cube.
Stretching muscles relaxes them and relieves pain. Over time, mobility and range of motion increase unless a physical condition prevents that from happening.
Exercising strengthens muscles so they toughen up and can resist more force. Even the mightiest muscle can be brought low by an unexpected accident or injury, but staying fit will probably lower your overall stress levels. You can literally work off your worries at the gym.
Here are three simple stretches that you could do just about anywhere, any time:
- Sideways neck stretch. Sit comfortably, either on a chair or cross-legged on the floor. Place one hand under your buttocks and the other on top of your head. Very gently, pull your head in the direction of the upper hand until your ear almost touches your shoulder. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side, switching hands
- Eagle arms. Raise your arms to shoulder height on each side with palms facing up. Bring your arms forward, crossing your right arm under the left. Rotate your wrists, so your hands are vertical. Touch either your palms or the backs of your hands facing each other. Lift your elbows and lengthen away from your chest while keeping your shoulders low (not hunched up). Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat with your left arm under the right.
- Corner stretch. Stand about two feet away from a corner with your feet together. Place one forearm on each wall. Your elbows should be just below should height. Lean in as far as you can without pain. You should feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders and chest. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
If home treatment doesn’t provide the pain relief you need, consult with a qualified health care provider to check out your condition and your wellness options. Who needs that pain in the neck, am I right?