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5 Tips To Reduce Neck Pain and Headaches

Updated: May 5

Approximately 80% of people experience neck pain during their lifetime, and 20% to 50% deal with it annually, according to Dr. Frank Pedlow, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. But there are some things we can do to reduce and even prevent neck pain and headaches.

1. Perform Thoracic Mobility Movements. What does your trunk have to do with your neck? The thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae located between the neck and low back. With a stiff thoracic spine, the neck loses its natural support system, forcing it to take on extra work whenever you rotate, bend, or extend your torso. This added strain can lead to muscle fatigue, tension, and eventually pain. Additionally, if your mid and upper back are tight and your rib cage rigid, this added tension pulls on the neck muscles, prevents freedom of neck movement, and restricts full lung expansion, causing shallow breathing. SOLUTION: Exercises to increase thoracic mobility are: thoracic extensions over a foam roller, trunk rotations and twist poses, and thread the needle and cat-cow yoga poses.

2. Correct Your Posture During Driving and Screen Time. Car seats often are slightly reclined, forcing us to protrude our heads forward. The headrest is designed to prevent whiplash, but they also push our head slightly forward so ears are no longer correctly positioned over our shoulders. When we sit at the computer, we often have a similar position in which our head gradually protrudes forward as we begin to slouch in the chair. These positions overactivate and strain back muscles of the neck and shoulders (upper trapezius, and levator scapula) . As a result, the surrounding counter muscles become underused and weakened. In upper crossed syndrome, this causes weak muscles in the front of the neck and in the lower shoulders (rhomboid and lower trapezius muscles) and it becomes harder to maintain an erect posture.

SOLUTION: Ergonomic Adjustments. Ensure your car seat and workspace support a neutral spine and upright sitting position.

In the car:

  • Adjust your seat into an upright position and use a small pillow for the back if needed.

  • If you slightly move forward your car seat you won't be rotating your hips as much when pressing on the accelerator and brake. When hips go out of alignment from repeatedly overreaching the leg to press the accelerator, this can trickle up the spine and pull on neck muscles.

At work:

  • Adjust the top of the monitor at or slightly below eye level. You want to be able to see your screen without changing your neck position.

  • Arms should be able to rest on the key board with elbows at 90 degrees.

  • Taking frequent breaks to move and stretch prevent you falling into a slouched posture.

3. Stretch Your Chest and Anterior Neck. A slouched posture can imbalance muscles.This includes our chest muscles, the pectoralis major and minor (pecs). When the pecs. are tight, the shoulders round forward. Because the pectoralis minor attaches to the scapula (shoulder blade), when tight, it pulls the shoulder blade forward, causing pain in the shoulders, neck, and headaches. To compensate for rounded shoulders, the head protrudes forward, straining the cervical spine and causing muscle imbalance in the neck and upper back where some are weakened while others tighten.


  • Gently stretch the chest muscles with arms in a doorframe, lying on a long foam roller and resting with arms spread open, or hands clasped behind your back.

  • Place hand on base. of neck, and stretch the front of your neck as in picture below only to level of comfort.

  • Use a yoga belt for brief periods of time to help open the chest and correct posture as demonstrated here.

  • Strengthen the weak muscles—particularly the back muscles and the lower trapezius. Strong back muscles bring the trunk in a more erect posture, which opens the chest, naturally repositioning the neck and head. Exercises like prone Y lifts, and exercises that target the rhomboids can help stabilize and correct imbalances.

4. Self-Massage Those Tight Muscles: The Trapezius Muscle is a large muscle that extends from the mid-back to the base of the neck. It is responsible for head rotation and shoulder depression and elevation for good posture. This muscle is a common area of tightness, but also a place where people hold emotional stress, causing muscle tension.

SOLUTION: Take a tennis ball and lying on the floor or against the wall, roll out where the base of your neck meets your shoulders and below. This is also great for tight shoulders! Another trick: put 2 tennis balls. in a sock and place on either side of your spine to roll out this muscle. Careful not to roll out the spine!

5. Change Your Pillow. Why are most pillows too high? No matter what your position is, you don't want your chin tucked or your neck tilted back. You want to maintain neutral neck alignment to not strain your neck vertebrae and muscles, which can lead to headaches. Sleeping on your stomach is the most straining for your neck because you maintain a twisted neck position for a long period of time, which can strain muscles and put pressure on nerves. SOLUTION: Use 2 pillows when you sleep: one that is a little thicker for side sleeping and one that is lower for sleeping on your back. A pillow should provide adequate support to your head and neck, and some people prefer a pillow also under their shoulders. Instead. of a pillow, some people prefer a rolled towel under the neck while on their back, or a cervical pillow to support the curve in their neck. Placing another pillow under your knees can help relieve back strain and further support your entire spine. Sometimes, all your spine needs is a good night’s rest!

For more freedom of movement and neck pain relief, enjoy this 20 minutes Gentle Seated Yoga Routine.

Start implementing these tips today and turn a pain in the neck into a thing of the past! What are your go-to methods for neck pain relief?

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