It always happens to me in the middle of the night.
A big deadline is quickly approaching so I spend extra hours at my computer. A few days of stress-induced tight shoulder muscles along with a hunching posture at my desk sets me up for crises. I finally make it to bed to get some sleep but when I try to roll over I get zapped. Ow! My neck! By morning my neck hurts so bad that I can hardly get out of bed and I can’t turn my head at all without breathtaking pain.
Muscle spasms and torn ligaments are the causes of most cricks, which feel like eye-popping pain in the neck and shoulder area. If gentle stretching provides some relief then the cause is a muscle spasm. If stretching makes the pain sharper the problem is ligament damage – stop stretching.
A crick in the neck caused by muscle spasms will generally resolve on its own in a few days but there are 2 simple stretches that speed up my recovery time. If practiced regularly, these exercises can prevent this type of neck injury.
The Palm Extension exercise stretches your upper back, shoulder and neck muscles.
- Stand up straight with your feet at a comfortable distance apart.
- Intertwine your fingers in front of you and then raise your arms straight out in front of you to about shoulder level.
- Turn the palms of your hands away from you and then very slowly and gently press your palms outward. Allow your shoulders to round forward as you stretch.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and breathe deeply.
- Relax your stretch but maintain the outward facing palm position and lift your arms up high so that your shoulders are by your ears.
- Again, gently press your palms upward and outward. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Relax your stretch and allow your arms, fingers still entwined, to fall in front of you.
- With palms facing outward, gently press your palms down toward the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and don’t forget to breathe.
The Push Down exercise stretches the muscles that run along the top of your shoulders and the side of your neck.
- Stand up straight with your arms at your sides, feet at hip distance apart and your chin parallel to the floor.
- With the palm of your right hand facing the ground, lift your right arm allowing your elbow to bend outward brining your right hand up by your armpit. Keep your palm facing down.
- Imagine that there is a heavy spring at your side under your right palm that you are trying to coil. Push down hard on the imaginary spring until your arm is fully extended at your side.
- When you arm is fully extended, palm still pressing down, stretch your neck and shoulder by gently bringing your left ear as close to your left shoulder as possible. Do not rotate your head.
- Breathe in deeply and exhale. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
- Then switch sides; bring your left hand up into your armpit and then push down, palm facing the floor, while lowering your right ear toward your right shoulder. Hold the position for 30 seconds and breathe.
You should repeat these stretches several times a day until the muscle spasm stops. If at first it hurts too much to hold the stretches for 30 seconds, then hold them for 15 seconds. You may also find that you can hold these stretches longer if you do them right after a hot shower or after applying a warm compress to your neck.
Remember to be gentle with yourself and to breathe. Your body can’t relax when you hold your breath.