When I meet new clients, I often ask, “where do you carry your tension?” 40% tell me their neck and shoulders bother them often, 40% mention their low-back and a lucky 20% of the population that I work with carries tension in both places. Me, I’m the original tight ass — I need to stretch my hips every day of my life, or my low-back tells me about it. But I digress, we’re talking about neck tension today.
Full disclosure: some of your neck and shoulder tension may not be your fault. Maybe you had an accident at some point — like a car accident or a fall involving whiplash — and you just haven’t felt the same since then. Maybe it’s genetics — some folks do have malformed bones in their spines that throw their posture off. But maybe, just maybe, you have some habits that are contributing to your neck and shoulder pain. How about we jump on those, since you’ll feel results right away.
The muscles and connective tissues that surround your skeleton love to live in a balanced state, where the front of the body is the same length as the back of the body. Your ideal state is always upright and perfectly balanced from front to back. Now don’t misunderstand me — you do need those gentle curves shown at far left! Take those curves too far though, and you’ll experience constriction and shortening in the muscles of your chest and the front of your neck constrict. In the meantime, the back of your neck and upper back lengthen, working extra hard to bear the weight of your head.
Your head weighs as much as a bowling ball — 8-12lbs! When that weight isn’t balanced on your body, it’s a huge job, like balancing an orange on a toothpick. Soooooo, let’s avoid situations that encourage you to lean your head forward.
The Big Purge
What’s the easiest thing you can do to combat all of this? Carry less. Less stuff in your hand bag, your gym bag, your work bag and your pockets means less weight pulling you forward, throwing your posture off. Studies show that the average weight of a woman’s hand bag is 5 – 7lbs. Since I’m a trainer, my gym bag is my work bag and every once in awhile I realize — I’m carrying the weight of the world in that dang thing. So, once a month, I purge — magazines, receipts, freebie snack bar samples, bottles of shampoo…. And my world becomes a better, lighter place.
Whatever you carry on a regular basis is changing the shape of your posture, pulling it away from that ideal state: upright.
Today’s simple tip for combating neck is easy: purge as much as you possibly can from every bag and pocket. You’ll move faster and smile bigger while losing that pain the neck.
Need an exercise to ease neck tension? Try the Dumbwaiter exercise.
You might also like: Visualization techniques for Neck Pain
Need an intervention for neck pain? Attend one of my Neck and Shoulder Pain workshops.
About the Author
Christine Binnendyk is the creator of the Ageless Pilates and Barre Fitness workout programs, taught exclusively at Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.. Nike employees take her Pain Free Body, Pain Free Athlete and Pain Free at the Office workshops at the Nike Sports Centers. Public workshops are available through Portland Community College, Club Sport Oregon and the Warrior Room. Find her best-selling book “Ageless Pilates” on Amazon.