Five Essential Stretches for Neck Pain

After sitting down at my computer for a few hours I often notice a nagging pain in my neck. More than the automatic updates, the random pop-ups, or the crashing of my computer, I attribute it to sitting for long periods of time without getting up to move and stretch.

An ancient Chinese medicine saying states, “When qi moves freely, there is no pain. When qi stops, pain occurs.” Qi, the body’s energy, must circulate for good health. When its flow is impeded, pain and disease occurs. (Here is a more detailed explanation of acupuncture and pain). The details of diagnosis and treatment can be very complicated, but in general we can say that the greater the pain, the worse the stagnation.

The Downward Spiral to Chronic Pain

I find patients generally follow a downward spiral towards chronic pain. An injury or minor pain makes a person use that part of their body less, which then leads to greater stagnation and an increase in pain. Whether it is neck pain, back pain, hip pain, tendonitis, knee pain, or frozen shoulder, the quicker you are able to move the joint and regain normal qi flow, the faster and more sustainable the recovery.

Getting up from the computer, to do stretches of the neck, shoulders, and arms often helps my pain. Sometimes stretching is not enough for those in chronic pain. If this doesn’t work, you can give me a call and we’ll discuss acupuncture treatment for neck pain.

When there is Movement there is no Pain

Dr. Xiao with his students

Dr. Xiao, my Tui Na (Chinese Medical Massage) professor in Hunan China, was famous not only for his technique, the Gun Fa (rolling technique), but also for his compassion for his patients and dedication to their health. In addition to his treatment, he educated his patients and their families about how to maintain and improve health through exercises and stretches.

“Every person, not just those in pain, should do these exercises to keep their body loose and their qi moving,” Dr Xiao instructed me. “Remember to smile, it will help your qi flow.”

The following simple movements can help alleviate and prevent neck pain by relaxing the muscles and increasing blood circulation. You may even find stretching helps you think clearer afterwards.

Five Essential Exercises for Neck Pain

1. Relax Your Breathing. If you do nothing else, do this simple breathing technique. Natural breathing is the foundation for the mind and body to relax and for qi to flow throughout the body. Stand in a comfortable position with your feet shoulder width apart, arms at your side, and knees slightly bent. Breathe into your stomach, allowing your abdomen to gently rise on inhale and fall on the exhale. After practicing for a while, this type of breathing often becomes your natural breath and you will feel more relaxed and calm. For a more in depth explanation, read this post.

2. Shake It Out. Maintaining the relaxed breathing, slowly begin to rock your shoulders and arms back and forth. Gradually increase this movement and shake out any tension. Remember to smile and have fun with it. You might even try adding a hardy belly laugh.

3. Gaze at the Heavens and Earth. Standing in the same position, relax your face and eyes. Slowly, bend your neck down and look at the ground, allow your muscles to relax. Then gently raise your head and look up. Try not to focus your gaze on any one particular object, but relax and look into the distance. Repeat this motion for about ten repetitions.

4. Look Both Ways Before You Cross. From a forward looking position, rotate your head to the left. When you have reached your limit, hold your head there for a moment and inhale, then slowly turn your head back to the right. Be careful not to over rotate which can cause pain and injury.

5. Rotate your head. Very very slowly roll your head in circles. Keep your eyes and face relaxed. Start rolling to the right ten times and then to the left. This is great to do in the middle of the day if you have minor neck pain.

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.
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