Phoenix Ignition Fitness Company

Fitness by the Fire: Neck Tension and Stress;The Cause and Treatment

by Ron Kennedy • March 06, 2019
Muscle soreness and strain are a part of a fitness lifestyle. Even the most advanced of us feel some level of tension in one if not multiple muscle groups on a regular basis. Often this tension is caused from over training, sometimes its triggered from activating an injury form the past, there have even been circumstances where people have pulled, strained, even completely separated muscle fibers moving in their sleep! After working as a fitness professional for over 16 years and counting, the trouble area I get asked about the most and what seems to cause our clients the most amount of discomfort and pain is the shoulder and mainly the neck area. From a physiology point of view, it is not surprising to me that so many people deal with pain in that area. The neck and shoulder line natural carry a great deal of tension form stress, its is an area of the body that is significantly effected from poor posture, and the muscle groups of the neck and shoulder typically are contracted improperly during exercise(think of those who torque their neck muscles by lifting the head upwards doing an abdominal crunch instead of lifting the torso with the abdominals as designed).

How do you know you have severe neck tension?

This tension can appear in the neck only, and/or in the shoulders and back of the head. Your neck, especially the back of your neck, feels tense, tight, stiff, sore, and even very painful. Some people describe this symptom as a persistent and unrelenting tension and soreness in the back of the neck. Many people who experience this symptom try to "crack" their necks or roll their necks in hopes that it will release the tension, stiffness, and soreness. Others describe it as a pressure, tension, stiffness, or soreness in the neck and shoulder area, with radiating pain to the back of the head. Some people experience this symptom with a head pressure, headaches, and a ‘tight band around the head’ feeling. This symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

The Cause of Such Pain.

Stress:

Believe it or not, the same thing that causes so many hardships on our body is also one of the primary suspects of neck and shoulder pain as well; stress. Well, allow me to correct myself… stress might not cause the pain, but it certainly will activate it. Stress also has a physical effect on the muscles in your neck. As you tense up, the tightness in your neck muscles contributes to neck pain. Chronic neck pain can also be a cause of irritability, fatigue, and even depression that can add a lot of stress to your life. It can get to be a vicious circle. Stress has also been shown to influence how people feel pain. If you are under stress, pain can actually feel worse.

Muscle Strain:

The most common cause of pain between the shoulder blades is a muscle strain. This can result from poor posture (especially leaning forward with prolonged sitting or standing,) excess lifting, activities that involve twisting such as golf or tennis or even sleeping on a poor mattress. As I mentioned, more strain is part of an active fitness lifestyle. How many times have you felt discomfort from a certain motion that you are familiar with and continued to execute said movement because it is part of an athletic event you have passion for? The mindset of “I just deal with the pain” is far too common.

Bulging or Herniated Discs:

Many people suffer from degenerative disc disease. Though this affliction causes trauma in the cervical spine and thoracic spine It's not uncommon for people with disc disease in their neck to feel pain only in other regions, and this can result in a delay in diagnosis. Other symptoms may include numbness and tingling, or pain in one or both arms. Sometimes pain due to disc disease in the neck is positional, for example, it may improve or get worse with flexing or extending your neck.

Treatment and exercises to prevent further pain:

The following exercise are designed to help relieve neck tension and shoulder pain, but these movements are NOT designed to treat a medically diagnosed condition. Let me be very clear about this, if you have bulging discs or disorder such as scoliosis please continue to seek medical assistance. Yet these exercises can be performed at any fitness level and most require little to know equipment.

Seated Neck Lever:

Sit on the floor in a cross-legged position or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Extend your right arm next to your right knee or along the right side of the chair. Place your left hand on the top of your head and slowly tilt your head to the left. Apply gentle pressure with your hand to increase the stretch. To feel a deeper stretch, you can hold onto your right knee or the seat of the chair. This stabilizes the torso and allows you to isolate the stretch on the side of your neck. Hold on this side for 30 seconds, then slowly lift your head up and repeat this stretch on the other side.

“Hands Behind You’re Head” Stretch:

It’s not just for bad cop shows anymore! Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor. Clasp your hands and bring both palms to the back of your head. Sitting with a tall spine, ground your hips firmly into your seat. From here, begin to gently press your hands down toward your thighs, tucking your chin into your chest. As you press down, use the heels of your palms to pull your head away from your shoulders. This will intensify the stretch even more. Hold here for at least 30 seconds, and then slowly lift your head up and release your hands.

Behind the Back Neck Stretch:

Stand with your feet hip distance apart, arms by your sides. Reach both hands behind your back and hold onto your left wrist with your right hand. Use your right hand to gently straighten your left arm and pull it away from you slightly. To increase the stretch in your neck, slowly lower your right ear toward your shoulder. Stay here for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
 
You can perform these movements before or after a training session and as long as the muscles don’t react with soreness, you can complete these exercises daily. My suggestion is to work these stretches in with your early morning or late evening stretching routine. Not only will it relieve a great deal of tension and stress in the neck and shoulder muscles, but also promote flexibility in the neck and prevent major stiffness in the joints along the entire nervous system.