Yoga for Neck Pain
Yoga can be very effective for helping to get rid of neck pain. Various poses such as down dog, spinal twists, child’s pose, crocodile, forward bends, backbends, and triangle are frequently beneficial. We will look at these poses in more detail below.
The secret to getting rid of neck pain with yoga is knowing which poses will work best for your own personal needs.
To get the best results when using yoga for neck pain it is essential to understand some basic things about posture, neck movements, and your body. People have neck pain for various reasons and will respond differently to the yoga poses. Once you understand what poses are best for you, you can get better results when using yoga.
What Yoga Poses are Best for Your Neck & Shoulder Pain?
What causes Neck Pain?
There are a variety of reasons for neck pain including: poor posture, tech neck, pinched nerves, arthritis, inflammation, herniated discs, whiplash, traumas, brachial plexus injuries, and stress.
Due to modern lifestyles, office work, excessive sitting, bad posture, and frequently looking at smart phones, it is common for the head and neck to shift forward and down. This places excessive strain on the neck and shoulders, as they support the weight of the head. For this pattern of neck pain it is essential to correct the forward shift of the head to stop the pain.
Fortunately, yoga and simple movements can help with many kinds of neck, back, and shoulder pain. Yoga can also teach us a lot about keeping better posture.
Yoga Poses, Benefits, and Movements
Forward Bends, Neck Flexion and Extensions
There are a variety of forward bends that can be beneficial for neck pain. These include both standing and seated forward bends. In many forward bends the neck will move forward as the chin moves towards the chest. These movements flex the neck and head while stretching the back of the neck, back, and shoulders.
Flexing the neck is not always the best move for people, since their head and neck is often chronically shifted forward and down with work and phone related activities. This pattern is also called tech neck and is a serious problem for many who work on the computer for long periods of time. Excessive use of smart phones also relates to this pattern.
For people with tech neck or chronic flexing of the neck, it is often best to emphasize neck extensions. To practice neck extensions simply look up while shifting your head and neck backwards. This movement strengthens the neck muscles and is what many people need to counterbalance chronic neck flexing.
Notice that in child's pose the head is shifted forward.
Cat Cow Pose, Neck Flexion and Extension
The yoga pose cat cow demonstrates how the head and neck move through flexion and extension. When we are in cat the spine, neck, and head are flexing. However, when we enter into cow the head and neck go into extension. This is a very easy pose that helps to balance these two movements.
Cat cow is a great pose to begin with for people suffering from neck pain. When doing the pose notice if you have more pain in cat and when the neck is flexing, or if cow and neck extensions cause more pain. If you find more pain when flexing the neck it is a sign that you will benefit from doing more neck extensions.
In cow pose the neck is in extension.
yoga backbends and neck extensions
Backbends in general will place the neck in extension as the head moves back. Examples of gentle backbends include fish pose, camel, locust, cobra, and sphinx pose. Each of these yoga poses require that we hold the head and neck up and back. When we do this kind of movement it strengthens the neck muscles. This is a very important move for many people with low-grade chronic neck pain.
Office workers and those with tech neck will also benefit from neck extensions and backbends. When we spend a lot of time on the computer and looking into screens it can cause the head, neck, and shoulders to shift forward. This weakens the neck, back, and shoulder muscles and they get over lengthened and strained.
Additionally, when the head and shoulders shift forward it also contributes to the chest collapsing forward. This can contribute to lung disorders, chest pain, shortness of breath, and more. Backbends help to open up the chest and ribcage, while the neck and head move back. These are very important movements to balance the pattern of chronic flexion and excessive forward movement in the head, neck, shoulders, and chest.
Backbends often place the neck into extension.
Yoga Poses for the Neck with Rotation & Lateral Bending
When we rotate our head to the left and right side, such as when we shake our head "no", this rotates the head and neck. Neck rotations are a basic neck movement which are also important to understand when we seek to do yoga and movement therapy for neck pain.
Another way the neck can move is to the lateral side, such as when we tilt one of our ear's towards the shoulder. This is known as lateral bending. Both of these movements, rotations and lateral bending, are similar as they involve the use of some of the same muscles. If you've ever received a chiropractic adjustment for your neck you have probably noticed that the doctor used rotations and lateral bends when they did an adjustment.
Triangle Pose for Neck Pain
In triangle pose we can practice neck rotations when we alternate between looking up at the extended arm and down at the ankle. We can also coordinate this with the breath so that when we inhale we look up at the arm reaching up, and with exhalation we look down. Moving the neck in this way and with the breath will allow us to move through cycles of rotation.
Triangle is also beneficial because it stretches the lateral neck muscles and influences the lateral myofascial line. When holding triangle pose the side of the neck facing up can get a gentle stretch, and it can also get the benefits of lateral bending.
Triangle is a fabulous pose for getting the benefits of both neck rotations and lateral bends.
Seated Spinal Twists / Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
The seated spinal twist is one of my favorite yoga poses for neck and back pain. It is easy to do, works the whole spine, and is a restorative pose. It also allows access to pressure points for neck and shoulder pain.
In this pose the spine is being twisted in different ways and this can have beneficial effects on various regions of the back, neck, and shoulders.
Some patterns of neck pain can originate in the lower body, and low back disorders, or even problems in the feet, may be the cause of pain in the neck. For people with pain in both the neck and low back this pose can be one of the best. It is also a very safe pose. In my yoga classes for neck pain, I teach how to use pressure points in this pose to benefit the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
Combining Yoga with Pressure Points
Pressure points such as used in acupressure can be very effective to use with yoga. In many yoga poses we can access acupressure points and stimulate them in a variety of ways. We can apply pressure, stretch them, do special movements, and apply other types of stimulation.
There are many pressure points in the hands and arms that can help stop neck pain. One well known point that is used is lung 7 (LU 7). This point is so powerful that it is known as the "command point" for the head and neck. To find this point come just above your wrist and thumb about one inch. On the radius bone you will find a bump known as the styloid process, this is where LU 7 is located.
To use this point feel around in the general area, and up towards the elbow where the red points are shown in the image. When you find a sensitive point or points apply pressure here with your opposite thumb. Hold the point so that it is a little tender, and then do neck movements such as flexions, extensions, rotations, and lateral bends. You can also apply this technique between different yoga poses for the neck.
Learn More About yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain
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