Neck pain is rarely a sign of a serious medical problem, but it can be miserable when chronic. Research shows yoga for neck pain can bring non-drug relief.
Yoga is an ancient practice that, in modern times, has become popular as a mode of exercise, using physical postures known as asanas. It also involves breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation for relaxation and stress relief. In addition, yoga has been used and sometimes prescribed to help specific medical problems, including neck pain.
As the dangers of several pain relievers, especially addictive opioids, have become widely known, researchers investigating non-drug, healthier ways to treat chronic pain have found yoga for neck pain is often effective,
If your neck hurts, any kind of exercise may sound impossible. It turns out, however, yoga for neck pain could be your best move.
Studies shows yoga can relieve pain intensity, reduce disability related to neck pain, and improve range of motion in the neck, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
Understanding neck pain and yoga
You can have a sore neck occasionally, or you may find your neck hurts frequently. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show around 16 percent of adult Americans have a bout of neck pain over the course of three months.
Injuries, arthritis, worn joints, and nerve compression from bone spurs can cause neck pain. But, more often than not, neck pain is due to over-used, strained muscles and ligaments, often related to poor posture and a stressful, sedentary lifestyle.
In fact, chronic neck pain is increasingly common as people frequently sit hunched over, peering at their smartphones. Researchers at San Francisco State University also found working at a computer for hours, jutting your head forward to look more closely at the screen, is a common source of modern-day neck pain.
Contact your doctor if numbness or loss of strength in your hands or arm accompanies your neck pain, or if pain shoots down your shoulder and your arm; all are potentially signs of a serious medical problem.
But when it comes to far more common sore necks caused by poor posture and muscle fatigue, yoga can likely help. It improves posture which, in turn, can help relieve neck muscle strain. Yoga gently stretches neck muscles that extend, rotate, and bend your head. It improves flexibility throughout your body, including your neck. Studies suggest yoga can reduce inflammation in the body, too.
Three yoga poses to help relieve neck pain
These yoga poses, performed slowly and gently, can help reduce muscle tension and “kinks” in the neck:
- Sukhasana Pose. Sit comfortably on a rug or yoga mat with your legs folded, or sit on a chair or stool with feet flat on the floor. Sit erect with your spine extended. Slowly and deeply inhale, feeling your chest expand. As you exhale, feel your navel draw in toward your spine. Take about 12 breaths as you observe your back and neck comfortably straighten toward the ceiling.
- The Cat Pose. Start with your hands and knees on the floor (on a rug or yoga mat). Make sure while you’re in “tabletop” position, in which your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in line and perpendicular to the floor; your knees should be directly below your hips. Center your head in a neutral position with your eyes looking at the floor. Inhale slowly and comfortably. Next, exhale as you round your spine toward the ceiling (making sure you keep your shoulders and knees in position) while releasing your head toward the floor, without forcing your chin toward your chest. Inhale again, coming back to the starting "tabletop" position. Repeat 5 to 10 times, or as many times as comfortable.
- Ear to Shoulder Pose. You can perform this yoga pose standing or sitting. Keep your spine straight while you look ahead with your arms by your sides. Take a slow, easy, deep breath. Exhale, gently moving your right ear toward your right shoulder. Make sure you are not leaning your head backward or forward; keep it on the same plane as your shoulders. Slowly move your head back to center as you inhale slowly. Repeat to the left side.
Bottom line? Be smart about using yoga for neck pain
When performed properly, yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity for healthy people, the NCCIH notes. That’s good news if you are looking for drug-free help for neck pain. However, if you are new to yoga, avoid extreme positions like shoulder stands and headstands.
The NCCIH recommends learning yoga under the guidance of a qualified instructor. And if you are pregnant, or have specific health conditions or problems associated with aging, it’s important to talk to both your doctor and yoga teacher about an individualized, safe yoga program for you.
January 10, 2020