Neck Pain Causes and Solutions

Are you experiencing chronic neck pain? Do you feel like you’re always holding tension in your neck, and no matter how many stretches you do, it just does not seem to resolve? Today, we’re going to talk about some root causes of neck pain. Also, of course, some solutions for it. 

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4 Neck Pain Causes

1. Breathing and/or airway dysfunction

Let’s start with one of the biggest issues, which is some type of breathing and/or airway dysfunction. This means that we can be in a sympathetic state, indicating that we’re in that fight or flight state. This means that we’re going to be breathing from our neck and shoulders. 

We breathe 25,000 times a day. So, if every breath is coming from here, you can appreciate how tight this is going to be. We can also have an airway dysfunction, indicating that there could be a deviated septum, a narrow airway, or changes in the jaw. Even poor tongue posture can play a role in exacerbating these issues.

In essence, many things might indicate that there is an airway issue contributing to poor breathing throughout the day and during sleep. 

2. Posture

Although there’s no clear link between posture and neck pain, we want to think about any potential compensatory patterns that we have in our body, as they can ultimately lead to compensation in movement and, potentially, pain.

For instance, if you spend long hours at your desk staring at a computer, you might develop certain habits. If you’re always looking at the screen to the left, your muscles and tissues may adapt to that position over time, becoming shorter and possibly causing discomfort.

This doesn’t mean you can’t move your head in different ways, but it’s worth paying attention to regular activities to see if there’s a chance to adjust and put yourself in a better position. Making small changes might help prevent potential pain down the road.

3. Headaches or migraines

If you’re experiencing any ongoing headaches or migraines, this often can be associated with neck pain. But, once again, we want to understand the underlying causes of that. Many times, it can be associated with jaw clenching, which can be correlated with airway dysfunction.

4. Lack of stability or motor control

Neck pain occurs when the neck compensates for a lack of stability or motor control, which we refer to as sequencing, timing, and coordination, somewhere else in the body. A good example of that is our core or abdominal area. It’s a beautiful balance of having the respiratory diaphragm work in synergy with our pelvic diaphragm, and all these muscles need the right coordination to stabilize our spine. This way, we can generate force and move efficiently in everything we do.

If we lack stability in the core, then something in the body has to figure out what to do for that. So often, that can be the neck. For instance, if you are trying to do a core exercise on the ground, and instead of the core really doing what it’s supposed to do, you start to get tension and abnormal tension in your neck. It’s a perfect example of how this could happen.

5 Neck Pain Solutions

So what can you do about it? 

1. Optimize your breathing

Let’s talk about some key points. First, address your tongue position. The resting tongue position should be on the roof of the mouth, gently touching the top teeth. This allows our airway to open so we can get optimal breath. We want to think about breathing in through the nose, and instead of breathing straight back, think about breathing up. As you breathe in, aim for full expansion in the abdomen. Think of it as a 360-degree breath—front, back, and sides of the abdomen. This creates inter-abdominal pressure. As you exhale, the abdomen contracts and the ribs come down.

If you feel like you can work on your breathing and improve it over time, that’s amazing. If it seems challenging to improve, you might need to explore other options to identify if there is indeed some structural airway issue that may need addressing.

2. Stop stretching

Often, when we have neck pain, our instinct is to stretch and stretch. When anything is tight in the body, these muscles are doing exactly what we need at the time—they’re protecting us. So if there’s a lack of stability somewhere else, if breathing is not optimal, then our body is doing what it needs to do to compensate and maintain homeostasis or balance.

We want to be kind to it. If we just take away that compensation, it might have a temporary fix, but it won’t be an ongoing solution. Instead, I love recommending the salamander stretch

You’ve probably seen this in my other blogs and videos, but it’s worth repeating. This is based on Stanley Rosenberg’s work. Interlace your fingers, bring them behind the back of your head, and relax your arms. Keep your arms down, side bend your upper body and look with your eyes in the opposite direction. Hold this for about 30 seconds. You might experience a sigh, swallow, or yawn—a sign of relaxation. Come back to center, then switch to the other side, eyes in the other direction, holding for 30 seconds. Before and after you perform this exercise, I recommend checking your range of motion. Normally, there is an immediate improvement afterward.

3. Identify any habitual patterns

Is your computer screen over to the left? Can you move it right in front of you? Are you on your phone for hours looking to the right? Just observe these things that you might be doing all day long and consider making some modifications. You don’t need to have perfect posture all day long—I’m not suggesting that. But it might be beneficial to change some of these habits that you’re doing for hours and hours a day.

4. Create stability and strength in the rest of the body

Learn how to build a resilient body. I know that might sound like a lot, but when we think about becoming stronger from the ground up, from our feet up, we can establish a strong connection and have a foundation for stability, strength, and mobility. This way, our neck doesn’t need to compensate all the time. When there’s chronic neck pain, unpacking things such as optimizing breathing, building stability and mobility (for example, in the thoracic spine), and then building strength can truly shift the trajectory of your pain in a lasting way.

5. Identify causes of chronic pain

And last but not least, whenever we have chronic pain, we want to consider a couple of other things. First, is there any systemic inflammation occurring? Are there factors such as certain foods, hormonal imbalances, or chronic stress playing into this systemic inflammatory response, especially when the pain persists? Additionally, we want to distinguish between acute pain and chronic pain. 

Chronic pain involves central sensitization, where our brain perceives a high alert of pain all the time. We need to learn how to use nervous system regulation and other strategies to down-regulate the nervous system, recognizing pain as information and shifting from a heightened sense to pain associated with a specific movement pattern. In chronic pain, there is no tissue damage at that point, whereas in acute pain, there can be tissue damage.

As always, I hope this helps you understand your neck pain a little bit more and, of course, some of the things that you can do to begin to change your pain and improve your health.

If you found this information helpful, please be sure to give it a like, share it with others, leave a comment below, and, of course, subscribe to our YouTube channel, The Movement Paradigm®, for weekly tips on mindset, nutrition, and movement. 

If you’re looking for personalized guidance on your journey and feel that you need an individualized approach, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We would welcome the opportunity to assist you.

If you’re interested in accessing a wide range of programs, including those on nutrition, somatics, and vagus nerve exercises, as well as movement programs to help you optimize your overall wellness, consider checking out our app, The Movement Paradigm, available on both Apple and Google platforms.

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Vagus Nerve Hack Neck Relief

Did you know that mechanical issues at the level of your cervical spine can influence the proper function of your vagus nerve? This can ultimately affect your blood pressure, heart rate, gut issues, anxiety, depression, and more. Essentially, this is yet another potential underlying cause that you may want to explore as the root of your vagal nerve dysfunction.

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Anatomy

As we know from our vagus nerve anatomy, the vagus nerve exits the brainstem. As it comes forward through this jugular foramen, it branches into the ear and throat. Then it comes actually down right through the front of the neck before it enters the heart, lungs, and digestive track.

What happens when there is a restriction in mobility?

Any restriction in mobility can create mechanical pressure and, therefore, neuroinflammation of the vagus nerve. For example, forward head posture can create compression of the vagus nerve.  If you are sitting at a desk all day, have an airway dysfunction such as a deviated septum, small nasal valves, enlarged turbinates, tonsil and adenoid issues, could influence forward head posture.

We also want to think about forward head posture as a result of the nervous system. If we are stressed, anxious, and depressed, that will also lend itself to a forward head posture, potentially a rounded posture.

Breathing and posture are interdependent on each other. If there’s a breathing issue, there’s a posture issue; if there’s a posture issue, there’s a breathing issue.

What can you do if you have posture issues

1. Body awareness

We can become aware of how we hold our bodies throughout the course of the day. We can become in tune with our postures and our positions, how long we’re there,  and be able to simply just check-in.

2. Addressing the issue

The second thing is addressing or exploring what airway issues may be present for you. If you are suspicious of this, seek out a professional to evaluate you.

At the minimum, try Mutes, a nasal dilator at night, to open the airway up to 38 percent, along with Xlear. It is important to reinforce nasal breathing.

3. Try these vagus nerve hacks

There are many ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, and I’ve done several blogs and videos on different exercises that can be very helpful.

●     Trapezius twist

The first, by Stanley Rosenberg, is the trapezius twist.

Grab your elbows and rock them back and forth at waist level, chest level, and above your shoulders.

It wakes up the trapezius muscles in the back and improves your posture immediately.

●     Myofascial release

When your lymph is congested, this can cause inflammation of the vagus nerve.

With your hand moving in a diagonal direction under your jawline towards your ear, traction the tissue up very gently. Move the skin over the tissue.  

Hold that position until you have some release. This may come in the form of a sigh, swallow, yawn, or a feeling of just a sense of relaxation. It will immediately bring your neck into a better position and could potentially relieve not only mechanical pressure on the vagus nerve but the other cranial nerves and even spinal nerves as well.

●     Salamander exercise

This is a version of Stanley Rosenberg’s exercise that I found to be extremely helpful. You’re stimulating the vagus nerve while also relaxing the spinal accessory nerves.

To do this exercise, interlace your fingers and bring them behind the back of your head. From this position, side-bend your upper body, and look with your eyes in the opposite direction. Hold that position for 30 seconds, and then you’ll come back to the center and repeat on the other side.

You want to check your range of motion in your neck before and after, and there should be an immediate improvement.

This provides neurological input from your eyes and your hands to the back of your head. It brings blood flow to the brain stem, where the vagus nerve and other cranial nerves exit. This creates a relaxation response as well as stimulates the spinal accessory nerve to create relaxation in the Sternocleidomastoid muscle and the upper trap muscle.

The mechanical influence of how your neck is positioned, joint mobility, soft tissue elasticity, lymphatic congestion, and airway dysfunction can all influence your vagus nerve.

Make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel, The Movement Paradigm, for weekly tips on mindset, nutrition, and movement, and if you’d like to reach out to us for a consultation, please do so we would love to help.

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A neck exercise that really works

Are you performing aggressive chin tucks due to your neck stiffness or neck pain with no results? Well, instead, try out this very simple and effective technique that works wonders.

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As a physical therapist for the past 12 years and being in the movement industry for my entire career, I’ve realized that chin tucks are prescribed so often, aggressively. As always, it is important to address root causes of why forward head posture is happening in the first place.  

In our previous videos and blogs, I’ve gone into more depth about forward head posture, and we have to think beyond just the mechanics of it. Is there an airway restriction? Is there emotional and nervous system dysregulation that’s contributing to poor posture? Aside from that, we want to also think about what forward head posture is doing to our nervous system.

What forward head posture does to the nervous system

Poor forward head posture can affect our vagus nerve (and other cranial nerves) and create more dysregulation in our nervous system. It can compress some of our spinal nerves as well as our cranial nerves, which have very important functions.

With that said, we have to think beyond just chin tucks and respect the nervous system.

One of my favorite basic techniques, which is a myofascial technique, stimulates the vagus nerve. It can ultimately help bring us into a better mechanical position and begin to reinforce optimal mobility in the spine.

How to perform

To perform this exercise, think about where the vagus nerve exits right behind the ear. Take both hands and place them right behind the earlobe. Traction that tissue up in the direction of the ear.

Place your hand on the tissue, move the tissue over, tractioning it up very gently, and you will almost immediately or shortly thereafter feel a sense of relaxation that could come in the form of a sigh, a swallow, or a yawn — it could just feel like a simple sense of relaxation.

You should feel like you’re actually placing the neck in a more neutral position, creating a natural lengthening of the spine.

Once you assume that position, from there, move through a gentle range of motion — forward bending, backward bending, rotation, and even side bending. What that will do is give good feedback to the nervous system because you’re actually stimulating the receptors in the joints and signaling to the brain that this is a good position. This feels safe. This feels pain-free.

Begin to incorporate this exercise frequently throughout the day. It’s easy, only about a minute, and can be very effective. 

Are you interested in seeing how we can help you with your neck pain, shoulder mobility, etc.? Schedule your 15-minute discovery session here: https://p.bttr.to/3qHXz8i

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I hope this is helpful. If it was, please give it a like, share it, and subscribe to our Youtube Channel — The Movement Paradigm — for weekly tips on mindset, nutrition, and movement.

Other things that may interest you:

Vagus Nerve Hack | Neck Release

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