Do you cradle your phone between your ear and your shoulder? Carry a heavy bag on one shoulder? Work on a laptop most of the time? You may be part of my club—the “my neck and head are constantly in pain” club.
I’ve had neck problems since my early 20s. They started when I carried a heavy bag on one shoulder walking two miles each way to work and cradled the phone between my chin and my shoulder while talking (this was decades before the days of AirPods). I developed headaches on one side of my head and started seeing an osteopath who would ease the strain with gentle manipulation…and that would last until I carried another bag or cradled the phone again and needed another treatment.
While I switched to backpacks and stopped cradling the phone, using a laptop and sitting at my desk looking at screens instead of people has exacerbated the neck and shoulder problems once again. Add to that my severe hip tightness from years of sitting. In recent years, I have been treating my neck with regular massage and I get chiropractic adjustments when absolutely necessary. (I hate the chiropractic adjustments—bones are put back in place for five minutes, but then my bad habits and my tight muscles take over and force those same bones back out of alignment.)
With each adjustment, I get more frustrated at what I see as my “incurable” situation and wish that I could just be free from the chronic tightness and foggy head that it creates.
Here’s the insane part of it—there’s a super simple solution that could certainly ease the problem, if not alleviate it altogether, and yet I don’t do it.
I am devoted to exercise, but in my haste to focus on burning calories and strengthening muscles, I am an absolute fool when it comes to stretching. No time, I tell myself…gotta get the workout in.
In my own words—I’m being utterly irresponsible and lazy…basically, an idiot. I know better. I’m not addressing the root cause of my pain. The massage and adjustments and hot Epsom salt baths are all Band-Aids that ease the problems temporarily but don’t get to the core.
My muscles are super-tight. Why? Well, here are just a few reasons—see if any of these sound familiar to you…
- I don’t warm up or cool down properly after exercise
- When under stress, I raise my shoulders and tense my body
- I chew way too much gum way too frequently
- I spend too much time each day sitting
- And last but certainly not least, I have poor posture when working at my computer—either jutting out my chin while at my desktop computer or slouching and jutting while on my laptop and tablet.
In other words…I am a petri dish of poor posture.
As we all know, sitting the wrong way while working at a laptop can cause pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, back and arms as well as headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrists and even pain in the temporomandibular joints (TMJ).
I will ask again…does any of this sound familiar?
One more brief story…David Goggins, former Navy Seal and ultra-athlete extraordinaire, admitted in his autobiography, Can’t Hurt Me, that after decades of extreme physical activity and body stresses, his body was “shutting down.” The man who could run 100-mile races suddenly couldn’t run to the end of the block. His internal systems also were failing, and doctors didn’t know what to do about it. But David did. He realized that his body wasn’t shutting down from wear and tear but from self-strangulation due to stress and tightness. He began a stretching routine and eventually healed himself.
This is a whole lot of preamble to invite you to join me in a personal experiment of stretching. I’m thinking that there are quite a few of you who have your own versions of my stories from above.
For the next month, I am committing to stretch for at least 20 minutes each day to see what I can do to heal myself and avoid the need for future adjustments. (Even if this experiment is a success and the stretching works, massages will remain part of my life—they simply feel too good.)
What will I be doing? Well, I am putting together a series of stretches focusing on my hips, psoas (the muscle that connects your lower back to your femur), shoulders and neck. The items outlined below are culled from assorted places and experts—these are what I will try and then adapt as needed.
Some are hard to describe, so I have given links. Note: There are many stretch routines and exercises out there, including some by Bottom Line expert and Dr. Oz’s personal trainer, Joel Harper. You need to find the stretches that work for you.
- Gentle movement of my whole body for five minutes based on Jeffrey C. Zimmerman’s principles of Harmonetiks. I described his centering technique in a previous blog. In short, I stand and find my center where I am not tilting forward, back or side to side. From that place of no strain, I breathe in and out slowly, allowing my body to gently move and flow as it wants to with my head and neck tilting up slightly, shoulders coming down and pelvis moving back. This movement creates a gentle rocking motion that opens up the muscles and ligaments to allow free flow rather than forcing harsh movement.
- Knee-over-hip rotation: Lying on my back, arms outstretched, bend one knee and roll it across the other extended leg and hold. I repeat on the opposite side.
- Seated airplane stretch: Sitting in a chair with my feet flat on the floor, I place my right ankle on my quad, about one inch above my left knee. I rest my right elbow on top of my right knee, and place my right hand on my right ankle. I gently lean forward, until I feel a comfortable stretch, while looking ahead, not down, and keeping my back straight. I hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides. (This is a Joel Harper stretch.)
- Psoa/hip flexor lunge stretch: This is to open up my hip flexors and the psoas. So important for those tight hips.
- Arms in the doorway: One of my favorite things to do because it opens up all those muscles in the front of my chest and shoulders that shorten when I hunch over screens. I stand in a doorway with my upper arms open to 90 degrees and forearms upright along the door frame.
- Yoga eagle arms stretch: This is just the arm part of the yoga eagle pose. It stretches the back of my shoulders and upper back.
- Chin down: I simply sit upright and drop my chin to my chest—hold and breathe to stretch the back of my neck. With my chin down, I also rotate my head slowly and slightly to stretch assorted muscles.
- Side neck stretch: Sitting upright, I drop my right ear toward my shoulder while lifting my right arm up and over my head to gently press my head toward the right for a good gentle stretch. I let my hand support my head as it returns to its upright position. And then I repeat on the other side.
- Forward fold with arms crossed. This is a variation of the basic yoga move. With my knees slightly bent, I bend at the hips and then simply hang in order to release my back and neck. I do it with arms falling straight to the ground. And then bending my arms at the elbows and holding each elbow gently, I increase the stretch across the back of my shoulders.
Are you with me? I will report back.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.