If you find that your head is running away from your body, you may be experiencing “nerd neck.” Forward head posture, also known as "nerd neck" or "tech neck," isn’t reserved for nerds. If you use a mobile device, work at a computer, or drive a car, chances are your neck feels some aches.
Especially in these cold winter months, as you go from the cozy warm indoors to the arctic blasts of the outdoors (yes, even here in Los Angeles!) muscle spasms are more likely to occur. Scarves aren’t just my favorite fashion accessory, they serve the very important function of keeping the neck warm. If the air is very cold, cover your mouth so the cold isn’t as harsh as it hits your throat (which is inside your neck). Cooling our neck from the inside can cause the same effect as cooling it from the outside.
Not sure if your head’s on straight? Set the timer on your phone, stand naturally, and take a profile selfie.
Then try this simple exercise: pull your chin back toward your jaw, moving your whole head back lifting from the base of the skull. Extend from the crown of your head, then take another photo. Compare the two photos to see how far forward your head is naturally.
Conscious movement in your neck is essential, especially after long periods of time with the neck in a fixed position. Follow this simple acronym to help remember how to consciously MOVE your body:
Move slowly - to protect the complex system of muscles, tendons, nerves and fluids.
Oscillate gently - pivot the neck over the spine in all directions, as capable.
Vary movements - change the direction and angle of movements to reach the fullest range.
Engage isometrically - with intention, ground the lower body and hands, creating resistance for the movement.
Be sure to include the shoulders in this movement - shrug them toward the ears, roll them forward and backward, isolate the movement in one side, then the other - really explore the full range of motion between the shoulders and neck.
A stretch so simple, you can do it from your desk. While seated in a chair, raise the arms to the sides at about the level of your heart. Extend from your fingertips, creating space from your rotator cuff to your wrist. Flex the finger tips toward the face, then drop the head gently to the opposite side, and marvel at the hot sensation that rushes from your neck, down the triceps, through the forearm and sparks through the palm of the hand.
For an added stretch, raise one arm over your head, while maintaining the flexion in the opposite hand. Gently drape the palm of the hand over the head, fingertips resting over the ears. Allow the weight of gravity only to softly pull on the head, creating slight traction in the neck. Allow each breath to create a little breathing room between your vertebrae.
When the neck is fixed in a position for a long time, certain muscles become stronger by being engaged constantly. Some small, vital stabilizing muscles tend to weaken, leading to misalignments and pain. Try this easy isometric muscle builder AFTER you’ve moved and stretched.
Start with the body in full alignment, seated or standing, giving special attention to putting the head solidly on top of the spine. Interlace the hands behind the head, and press them into the back of the skull. Press the skull backward into the hands. Resist the pressure of your head with your hands, and vice versa - isometrically isolating these muscles as you engage them.
Do the same on the front, pressing the palms of the interlaced hands so the front of the hands presses into the forehead. Resist the pressure with the head, pressing it back into the hands. Keep the pressure even between the two, continuing to lift from the back of the skull with the head aligned on top of the spine.
With one hand at a time, repeat this same motion on both sides of the head, pressing the palm of the hand into the side of the head. You can explore other angles, gently pressing the hand into the skull, and the skull into the hand.
As much as we may work to keep our necks moving naturally, there are times that they don’t. Muscle spasms are one of the most common causes for neck pain, and can find great relief through bodywork techniques. The trifecta I recommend for neck pain is:
Moist heat (bonus for epsom salt soaks)
This week when I woke up to a pain in my neck screaming at me, I tried all the usual bodywork tricks at home - foam roller, ball rolling, trigger point tools, hanging upside-down. Days later, the pain was still at the same level. I felt relief within the first 15 minutes that Nikko worked on the area.