A few months ago I wrote a blog with the same title. I’ve been getting a lot of questions and feedback from it so wanted to expand on it. In this blog series called Why Your Neck Tension Won’t Go Away, I’m discussing possibilities. The possible relationships between your muscles that MAY be contributing to your neck tension.
This is my disclaimer: you may get results from the scenario I present, but you may not. There are MANY possible muscular imbalances that could be the root cause of your pain. It’s impossible to know your specific case without testing your muscles.
You can read part 1 here for one scenario. In part 2 below, we’ll take a look at another potential dysfunctional muscle relationship.
There are a bunch of muscles on the backside of your neck that extend your neck. Neck extension is lifting your chin up to look at the ceiling.
Your neck extensors can often overwork for your neck flexors which are on the front side of your neck.
The Levator Scapulae is one of the neck extensors.
Take a look at where it attaches on the cervical spine and the shoulder blade.
The Levator Scapulae can take over the job of holding your head up. We look down at our phones so much that the neck extensors get overstretched, but stay tight in order to hold our 7 pound head up. That makes the levator scapulae angry that it has to do the job of other muscles!
The neck extensors can also become overactive if you’ve ever had whiplash.
There are a lot of muscles that flex the neck and they are on the front and sides of your neck. Neck flexion is looking down….the opposite movement of what the neck extensors do. It’s common to see a front to back muscle imbalance. Often, the neck flexors become underactive.
Improving Neck Tension
As with any muscular imbalance, the overactive muscle needs to be calmed down by either stretching, massage, foam rolling or other release method. And the underactive muscles need to be strengthened.
I like to use a small ball to place on a trigger point in the overactive muscle. With the Levator Scapulae, the trigger point is often on the top, inside edge of the shoulder blade.
You can either place the ball between you and a wall while standing or lie on your back on the ball. If your trigger point is hyper-sensitive, I recommend using the standing release against the wall. Spend 1-2 minutes with pressure on the trigger point and rolling the length of the muscle.
Then, strengthen the neck flexors with this exercise:
This is a very subtle movement. You’re pulling your chin in as if you are making a double chin. Do as many reps as it takes to fatigue the front of your neck.
Do this corrective exercise homework daily for at least 2 weeks. And start looking at your phone at eye level. The more you practice good neck alignment, the faster the neck tension will go away.
Real Life Examples
How coincidental is it that while I’m writing this blog, a client comes in complaining of right-sided neck tension?! She also gets headaches mainly on the right side.
I tested both her right and left levator scapulae and they were weak and painful. It’s tempting to stretch an area of tension, but if it’s weak, stretching only makes it worse. Turns out one side was overworking for the other.
Another client had whiplash from a car accident 10 years ago. Her right side levator scapulae was overactive and neck flexors were underactive. So she got the exact corrective exercise homework I’ve listed above.
This is why having your muscles tested by a NeuroKinetic Therapy practitioner is so important. There are so many ways your body can compensate. You have to discover what’s the correct exercise for you.