• Janet Golownia

Yoga perfect prescription for neck pain

Updated: May 10, 2020

Yoga is a perfect prescription for neck pain. Pain is usually a sign of dysfunction (unless it is an acute injury). Often, the pain does not tell us where the dysfunction is coming from. For example, neck pain can be related to some sort of dysfunction in the shoulder girdle. Our neck is at the end of a chain of joints whether this be via your legs, your spine or your arms. Our neck is burdened with the greatest amount of compensation for any imbalances in these chains. Our necks ability to function well resides between our shoulder blades and as we improve our shoulder girdle function our neck can find its ease.

The shoulder girdle is designed to act as a bridge between the arm and the spine. The shoulder girdle bones are the scapula and clavicle seen in the picture below.

There are layers of power muscles that support the movement of this structure and other muscles that act as stabilizers of the scapula relative to the spine.

There can be various reasons for shoulder dysfunction…

  • Stuck scapula

  • Tight thoracic spine

  • Impinged brachial plexus due to tight subclavius, pectoralis minor, coracobrachialis and biceps.

  • Disconnect between the pelvis and shoulder girdle.

  • Disconnect between the core and the shoulder girdle releasing and stabilizing structures.

  • Disconnect between leg movement and the shoulder girdle.

  • Pattern of holding the breath.

What are the yoga tools that can help with shoulder dysfunction?

Breath, Movement & Stillness

With these tools you and a yoga therapist can discern what may be compensating for weakness or lack of movement. How does this work? In yoga we work to find that place of contentment and ease in each pose. When we are content and at ease, we are able to relax and this gives us a chance to FEEL what may be compensating. With this information a yoga therapist can design a program to quiet down what shouldn’t be moving and nurture what should be moving. When we do this pain starts to settle down more and more.

Simple things you can do to improve shoulder girdle function…

Scapular awareness exercise:

Lie on mat with knees bent, feet hip width or wider. Arms forward, palms facing in, fingers pointing up toward ceiling.

  • PROTRACTION: On inhale push the arms up toward the ceiling – you will feel the upper back round and the shoulder blade move away from the spine.

  • RETRACTION: On exhale draw the arms back toward the floor – you will feel the shoulder blades poke out into your mat and that the shoulder blades move closer to the spine sort of creating a valley in the upper back.

  • ELEVATION: From the retracted state on inhale draw the shoulder blade up toward the head – use the feedback of the floor to know that you are moving from the muscles of the shoulder blades and not the muscles of the upper back and neck.

  • DEPRESSION: On exhale draw the shoulder blades down towards the hips – again use the feedback of the floor to know that you are moving from the muscles of the shoulder blades.

Continue moving through all four planes 5 to 10 times – almost as if you are moving in a circle. Make sure you are initiating all movement from the shoulder blades. If you feel the muscles of the back around the lower part of your ribcage engage you are compensating and moving from you latissimus dorsi or quadratus lumborum muscles.

Practice the following to release the thoracic spine:

  • Place a rolled-up yoga mat where T7 or T8 vertebrae are located (for women this is the bra strap area) or find the base of your breast bone directly back to the spine and then place your head on the mat as well. If this is uncomfortable raise your hips with a block or blanket (do not raise the hips to the level of the mat or higher). If this causes any pain or numbness use a thinly rolled blanket instead of the yoga mat.

  • As you lie here for 2 to 3 minutes just breathe.

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