Pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders are common complaints I hear from my students. In a previous article, I mentioned the role Forward Head Syndrome or FHS plays in the development of headaches, and neck and shoulder pain. Closely-related to FHS in terms of its negative effects is forward head flexion (FHF).
FHF is when the neck bends forward so the chin drops towards the chest. In extreme cases, the neck muscles along the back of the neck have become so weak and overstretched that they can no longer perform their primary function of maintaining the neck in a neutral position. The lack of support then given to the head results in a multitude of negative physical symptoms and eventual long-term musculoskeletal injuries to the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
Buzz words like "tech neck" have brought FHF into the limelight as the soaring usage of mobile phones and other PDAs have brought with it an increase risk of developing neck and shoulder disorders in their users. Of course, bad habits when reading and writing at a computer or otherwise can have the same negative effects on the reader.
The Dangers of Tech Neck
- Rounded shoulders
- Pain and knots between the shoulder blades
- Pain along with weak and overstretched muscles along the back of the neck
- Tight muscles along the front of the neck
- Muscle fatigue in the neck
- Numbness and tingling in the forearm, hands, and fingers
Straighten Yourself Out
Here are a few ways to correct and prevent FHF:
- Look up. Life is a lot more interesting this way.
- Bring mobile and other PDA devices up to eye level when using them. Same goes when reading your newest favorite novel.
- Practice gentle, prone (on your stomach) backbends like Salambhasana or Locust Pose. Work by lifting the upper body only. Prone backbends will strengthen the mid and upper back muscles as well as those along the back of the neck.
- Prior to jumping into Salamba Sarvangasana or Supported Shoulderstand, practice Setu Bandha Sarvagasana supported on a bolster or folder blankets.
- Practice Salamba Sarvangasana and variations with support udder the shoulders. This will keep the already overstretched anterior neck muscles from being further stretched while allowing them to relax. For those with tight posterior neck muscles, support will ensure you're not overstretching muscles past where they should go.
- Relax in supported supine (on your back) backbends where the neck muscles, front and back, are allowed to relax. This will allow the tight muscles along the fronts of the neck to stretch and release gently.
Practice this release daily:
Roll a mat or fold a blanket so that it is just narrow enough to place along your spine. Lay on your back on the support and ensure everything is supported from the back of your head to the buttocks. In the case of the mat, use additional support like a blanket or block under the buttocks. Reach your arms out from your shoulders and rest them along the floor with the palms up so you are making a "T" position. To make the stretch more intense, bend your elbows as much as 90 degrees so your hands are in line with your head. Stay here for a 2-5 minutes while focusing to relax the muscles along the back of the neck and shoulders. if you feel pins and needles in your arms and hands, straighten your arms.
Bad habits take hard work and time to correct but if you follow these guidelines and practice not only to correct your neck position but also relax your overtaxed neck muscles, you will see and feel the difference in no time.