“My neck hurts!” has pretty much become most people’s answer to “How are you today?” Unfortunately for us, our computer-centric work-life has got us perpetually rounding our shoulders and sticking our chins out, leaving many people with irritation, inflammation and eventual degeneration. However, next time you feel that pain a com’n, before you reach for the Advil give some Qigong for neck pain a try.
How does your posture affect your neck?
The muscles, ligaments, joints, and bones of our bodies work to maintain a delicate balance of opposing forces that push and pull. Bones act as the rigid structure for muscle to pull on. Ligaments connect bones together and give support to joints, and joints of course allow us to move.
This is why balanced alignment of the body is so important. You basically have an 8-10lbs bowling ball which you call “your head” that balances upon the flexible structure you call “your body”. The bowling ball needs to balance directly above your hips and ankles otherwise it puts tremendous pressure on the supporting structure aka….. Your NECK!
Now, the shoulders are built to move in amazing and dynamic ways. Because of that, they are basically held on to your body by muscle alone (other than one tiny ligament). But those muscles can't be expected to work 24/7. Everyone needs a rest now and then.
Few people would undertake a daily 8 hour workout. But that is basically what your neck and shoulder muscles are doing while you’re slouching over your desk hours on end. If only we were as mindful of “form” at work as we try to be at the gym.
What are the muscles that act on your neck?
Painful neck muscles have two causes. Weakness or tightness. Sometimes a combination of both, or one as a result of the other. But when it comes to stress on the shoulder girdle, the first place to look is always the mid-back.
The job of the mid fibre traps and rhomboids muscles of the mid-back is to pull the shoulder blades toward the spine. In turn this pulls the shoulders and arms back and down. This puts them in a strong and stable position.
Most importantly, is the fact that when the middle traps are engaged, the upper traps are disengaged. So much of the discomfort people experience is due to chronically contracted upper trap muscles basically turning into concrete.
If however the middle trap muscles are weak or just simply unused, the shoulder blades wing out and the shoulders roll forward. This has a harmful effect on the tiny little pec minor muscle that attaches to the front side of the shoulder blade.
The pec minor attaches to a little bony hook called the coracoid process. From there it travels down the side of the chest and attaches to the first three ribs. If this little guy gets used to living in a shortened position, it keeps the shoulder perpetually rolled forward and the upper trap constantly engaged….. and then the concrete sets in!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. The muscles on the side of your neck that turn your head typically work in opposition to each other. When the left side contracts, it turns your head to the left and stretches the muscles on the right.
However, when the shoulders are rolled forward and the upper traps are engaged, this pushes the head forward causing both sides of the neck to contract at the same time. This leads to a whole new problem where disease is a product of behaviour.
Thoracic outlet syndrome is a condition that is exploding these days for this very reason. The body has both nerve and blood vessels that branch out between the muscles on the side of the neck. When those muscles get too tight, things get pinched. That's when pain and paralysis begin.
That chronic forward head position slowly creates dysfunction down the arm into the elbows, wrists and hands. Shoulder, elbow, wrist or finger pain, numbness, tingling or weakness can all be the result of simply bad posture.
What causes cervical degeneration?
Next, let’s look at the bones and joints of the neck. Like the rest of your spine, the structure of the neck is composed of two parts, bones and cartilage. The bones (vertebrae) provide sturdy support and the cartilage (disc) provide the cushion and allow for movement.
This works all fine and dandy as long as everyone is stacked nicely one on top of the other. However, if your head is chronically pushed forward staring at your choice of screen, we can very easily begin to wear away the edges of both as we slowly crumble under the figurative and literal weight on our shoulders.
As the discs thin, so does the space between the vertebrae where the nerves branch off the spine. I’m sure you can guess the result we all fear?
Do tight neck muscles cause headaches?
Headaches can have many different causes. From hormonal imbalances to dehydration, to barometric influences and yes muscle tension. Once again we go back to those concrete upper trap muscles. There are several different muscles including the upper trapezius attach to the external occipital protuberance commonly referred to as the EOP. The EOP is that boney lump at the back of our skull.
At that point, the muscles interweave into the fascia on the scalp. The scalp then stretches over the top of the head until once again it attaches to the frontalis muscle of your forehead.
Now, remember, constant pull on any structure doesn’t do anyone any favours. What it does result in is a point of irritation and pain. So whether your endless scrolling makes you constantly furrow your brow, putting pressure on the back of your head.
Or your constant “slouchyosis” is pulling your scalp back leading to an exploding forehead headache. No matter which way the muscles pull, the result of non-stop work ……. Is pain!
Can you use qigong for neck Pain?
There are many different types of exercise you could do to rid yourself of that pesky pain in the neck. What is most important is that they contain three different components. The key factors that promote the health of your neck are flexibility, range of motion, and muscular stability.
This is why Qigong is a perfect remedy because it checks every box.
Qigong’s effect on Flexibility - Qigong movements by nature, move the body through unusual planes of movement, encouraging the body to stretch and expand its physical limitations.
Qigong’s effect on Range of motion - Qigong movements tend to be circumductive (circular) in nature. These types of movements promote joint health and increase the ability for them to move safely through large ranges.
Qigong’s effect on Muscular Stability - Interestingly, it is the slowness of the movements in qigong the stimulates the muscles to increase their strength, endurance and stabilizing power.
On top of all the physical benefits of Qigong for neck pain, are the mental health benefits. The calm and peaceful nature of qigong helps quiet the mind and soothe emotions relieving anxiety and stress. Much of our physical tension is generated from our perception of reality. Our bodies are literally a physical manifestation of the way we think and feel.
If your thoughts and emotions are rigid and constrained, all too often, so is your body.
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