Relieving neck pain is certainly not easy. Ultimately you want to be able to stretch and strengthen your neck, but you want to be able to do this in a way that doesn’t aggravate the often sensitive muscles that you need to hold up and turn your head. And with that big brain of yours, your neck has a lot of work to do! Here are some great ways to get that neck more supple, and able to handle its big job.
1. Stretch the truth. Or rather, the truth is: stretch it! But definitely do it in a way that doesn’t go too far – stretching your neck should not be the same as stretching the rest of your body. Because the muscles in your neck are more slender, plus the fact that you have a lot of nerves and important blood vessels running through there, you run the risk of hurting yourself by over-stretching. The best answer? Use a mirror: look at yourself in a mirror and draw small to medium-sized circles with your chin. This will help move your neck without going too far. Next, draw figure-eights with your chin, still watching yourself in the mirror. Finally, turn perpendicular to the mirror, and turn your head towards the mirror. Make sure that you turn only enough so that you can see your opposite ear, no farther. And most of all, think of it as movement rather than actual stretching – this will help you prevent injury.
2. Keep still. Isometric exercises for your neck tend to be the best way to strengthen the muscles here. These types of exercises involve static positions, where you don’t actually move the joint that your muscle is attached to. Your health care practitioner should be able to show you some good ones. Hint: once again, use a mirror whenever possible, and maintain good posture. Don’t over stimulate doing these exercises as you might be inclined to do. Just because you’re not moving doesn’t mean the muscle isn’t getting worked. It is!
3. Let it soak in. Taking a bath is a great way to give your muscles a chance to relax, and to help relieve some of that tension in your neck. Make sure that you add something to your bath though – the hot water alone will help, but not nearly as much as some additives will. Epsom salts are made of magnesium sulfate, which can help relax your muscles and also release endorphins (those ‘feel good’ chemicals in your brain). Adding an essential oil such as lavender or eucalyptus can also increase the effectiveness of a nice, hot, 20-minute soak.
4. Heat it up. Ice is good within the first 24 hours after inflammation starts, but once that time has passed start adding heat – especially if the pain in your neck is chronic (i.e. more than a few months old). Heating pads, hot water bottles and so on are great. Just be careful not to put anything too hot directly onto your skin: use a towel in between if you need to. Do this for 20 minutes, then let your muscles rest for 20 minutes without heat. Repeat this cycle 3 times.
5. Rub it in. Using some kind of cream or balm for pain relief is often a great option for neck pain relief, especially if you’re on the go. Something like arnica, a homeopathic herb, is great for absolving pain issues. So are other options such capsaicin, as well as some Chinese herbal ointments. Anything with menthol in it should be avoided, however, for pregnant and nursing women, as well as for children and even if you think that you might be allergic or are taking a drug that could possibly have an issue with an adverse interaction.
6. Get it worked on. Massage therapy will help to improve the circulation in your neck, while also helping ease tension and release endorphins. A Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) is trained to know exactly what areas to massage, so be sure to book with someone thus qualified. And if you can’t find the time to book with a professional, ask a friend or loved one – just make sure that they use light pressure and don’t massage the bones in your neck, just the muscles.
7. Put a pin in it. Acupuncture has been relieving neck pain for thousands of years, so there’s a good chance it could probably do something for you too! By getting it performed by an R. TCMP (Registered Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner), you’ll ensure that your diagnosis is based on proper fundamentals, and your treatment will not only relieve your pain, but will have a lasting effect as well. The needles your R. TCMP might use include those on your neck, as well some on your back and lower legs.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
You might have been sitting for a while and then got up quickly, only to feel a twinge in your back as you did so. Or maybe you just bent over to pick up a pencil you dropped, and found that you couldn’t get back up. Whatever caused your back pain, you’re certainly feeling it now, and relief is probably all you care about at the moment. Back pain can be excruciating, and the agony you feel with it will often drive you to do almost anything. Luckily, there are a wide variety of natural ways to relieve that back pain. Here are some of the best:
1. Get poked. Acupuncture, the ancient modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been relieving pain and other health conditions for thousands of years. Now widely accepted all over the world, acupuncture can often help bring you relief in only one session, although if you’ve been experiencing pain for a while you may need a few more treatments. Be sure to get your acupuncture done by someone trained as a TCM practitioner – many other professions will do it but since their training in diagnosis is limited, so will be their results.
2. Ask for a gentle beating. Probably even older than acupuncture, massage therapy is a very common treatment sought for back pain. And so it should be – who doesn’t like a nice, relaxing massage when they’re in pain? Scientifically speaking, massage helps your muscles by improving the circulation to them, ridding them of the inflammation that can exacerbate your pain. Massage will also help your body release endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemicals that take away stress and pain.
3. Soak it up. If your back pain has been around for more than 24 hours, the inflammation process has ceased and something like ice will no longer help. In TCM, in fact, ice is almost never advisable, as it is heat that works better to move your blocked energy. Heat in the form of a hot bath is especially enjoyable. Try using Epsom salts, which contain magnesium – an excellent element for relaxing your muscles. You can also add essential oils to your bath, e.g. lavender, which is very soothing.
4. Stretch it out. Most people don’t stretch nearly enough, assuming that the other exercise they get is enough. The truth is, stretching can help build muscle and burn calories, so there’s really no reason to avoid it! And it can certainly help prevent or relieve your back pain, as stretching relieves tension and encourages lymph drainage. Lymph carries away the debris built up after the inflammation process has occurred.
5. Lay it on thick. There are a variety of different creams on the market that can help relieve muscle pain. One really good one is arnica cream, a homeopathic remedy for bruising, muscular strains, and swelling. Also taken internally, this herb is renowned for its ability to help enable the healing process. Another herbal cream that might help is capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers that has a remarkable analgesic effect.
Getting relief right away may not be possible if your pain is severe enough. But be patient: often a variety of the above methods works best, and you may just have to give them some time to work. Natural remedies work best when you’ve also employed some preventative measures, so be sure (once you’re healed) to get started on a decent exercise program to keep this type of injury from coming back (no pun intended!).
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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