The Yoga Solution For Neck Pain - Monthly Yoga with Abi

Sep 24, 2017 at 23:51
by Abi Carver  
Yoga to relieve neck pain. Photo credit danielronnback
Photo credit: Daniel Rönnbäck, Bali

Pain and stiffness in the neck can drain your energy on long, hard rides, cause tension headaches and leave you vulnerable to tweaks and muscle strain. Unfortunately, it’s super common in mountain biking which hits the lethal trifecta for neck issues: non-optimal posture, excessive tension, and injury.

Fortunately, yoga can be really effective at relieving this sort of pain. Similar to my approach for alleviating lower back pain, there are three parts to this: releasing tension, restoring range of motion and strengthening supporting structures.

As you come into the off-season, it’s the perfect time to work on your rehabilitation and conditioning. You should find something in this article to get started on.


Alignment

When you’re standing with good posture, your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should all be in a straight line and your spine should be in neutral. In the neutral spine, there is a gentle inward curve at your lower back and at the back of your neck and a slight rounding at your mid-back. Standing, sitting and moving through the world in roughly this alignment places the least amount of stress on muscles and ligaments throughout your body.

It is not that being in other positions is inherently bad for you unless of course, you’re holding that position for a long period of time, under physical stress and/or load—say, riding up a mountain for several hours, wearing a full face helmet with a rucksack on your back.

An immense amount of pressure goes through your neck and shoulders. The muscles on the back and side of your neck especially have to work hard to support your head (ideally the job of your skeleton) and this can quickly lead to stiffness and soreness if you don’t actively release the tension.


Adaptation

Over time, this is the common pattern that emerges:

- The upper back muscles (upper trapezius) and the muscles in the side and back of your neck (levator scapulae, scalenes, and sternocleidomastoid) tighten up.
- The joints in the back of the neck are compressed.
- The muscles in the mid-back that stabilise the shoulder blades (rhomboids and middle and lower trapezius) are over-stretched and become weak.
- The front of the shoulders and chest close up, becoming short and tight.
- The muscles in the front of your neck atrophy from lack of use.

Once we understand this pattern, we can start to address the muscular imbalances and postural misalignments that are at the root of the problem.


Re-balancing

These are the areas we need to work on:

- Release tension in the upper back and the back and sides of the neck.
- Open up the chest and the front of the shoulders.
- Increase range of motion in the neck, shoulders and thoracic spine (mid-back).
- Strengthen the mid-back—the muscles that stabilise the shoulder blades—and the muscles in the front of the neck.
- Correct the alignment of the cervical spine/decompress the back of the neck.

As I mentioned, there are three parts to this: releasing tension, restoring range of motion and strengthening supporting structures. I am going to recommend a number of poses and techniques, and you can experiment with what feels good and gives you the relief you are looking for. Please note that these poses are not designed for managing whiplash or other acute neck injuries, nor are they meant to replace physical therapy. If you have any concerns, please check with your doctor before you try any of these poses. None of them should cause you pain.


Part One: Releasing Tension

As a reminder, the two primary reasons that muscles get tight are from holding a shortened position for a long period of time without being released and from over-activity, again, without release.

There are two parts to this section that roughly break down into active and passive stretching. You can do the active stretches on the bike, in the car, at your desk, pretty much anywhere, and the passive poses are best done at home in the evening for a deeper level of release.


i. Targeted Stretches

Here are some stretches you can do to release tension in your neck, upper back, and shoulders.

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- Slow down your breath and breathe deep into your abdomen.
- Hold each stretch for 3–5 breaths, deepening the stretch on every exhalation.
- Be gentle. If you apply too much force or move too quickly, your muscles will contract even more.
- Notice where you are holding tension and pay extra attention to those areas.

For the neck stretch, try a few different angles. Look straight ahead and hold the stretch there to stretch the side of your neck (scalenes), then look up to stretch the front of the neck (sternocleidomastoid) and look down to stretch towards the back of your neck (levator scapulae and upper traps).


ii. Relaxation Poses

Here are five therapeutic poses you can do in the evening as a sequence, or just one or two at a time. The aim is profound relaxation—to allow the muscles in your neck, shoulders and upper back to soften and relax.

Relaxation is a skill like any other. You may discover that you’re unconsciously holding a lot more tension than you realise, especially around the neck and jaw. With practice, you’ll find that you get better and better at letting go of this tension.

- Support yourself on as many cushions and pillows as you need to fully relax into the poses.
- Hold each pose for 2–3 minutes to begin with and increase this over time. Use a timer to track your progress.
- Slow down your breath and breathe deep into your abdomen. Imagine that your breath is dissolving away tension and pain.
- Notice if you are holding tension in your jaw and consciously let it go.
- If you want something to focus on, follow the movement of your breath as it moves in and out of your body.
- You can repeat this sequence, once, twice, three times a week. As often as you need it.


1. Legs Up The Wall

Legs Up The Wall Photo credit Paul Baker

Decompresses the back of the neck and opens up the chest and shoulders.

- You can support your head and neck on a thin cushion or blanket.
- Keep the back of your neck long, relax the muscles in the side of your neck and allow your head to feel heavy.
- Let go of any tension in your jaw.
- Stay in the pose for 3–10 minutes.


2. Puppy

Puppy Pose Photo credit Paul Baker

Stretches the chest, triceps, and lats opens up the shoulders and decompresses the spine.

- Try to keep your hips roughly above your knees and draw them back against your elbows to create traction in the spine.
- You can rest your forehead on a blanket.
- Consciously let go of any tension in your neck and jaw.
- Stay in the pose for 2–3 minutes and increase this over time.


3. Twisted Scorpion

Scorpion Photo credit Paul Baker

Opens up the chest and shoulders and improves rotational spinal mobility.

- You can support your head and neck on a cushion and move the position of your bottom arm to get the stretch you need.
- Allow the weight of your top knee falling open to increase the twist at your waist.
- Relax your neck and jaw.
- Stay in the pose for 2–3 minutes, to begin with.
- Be careful when you come out of the pose.


4. Reclining Spinal Twist

Reclining Spinal Twist Photo credit Paul Baker

Opens up the chest and shoulders, stretches the neck and increases rotational spinal mobility.

- Completely relax into the pose. You can use as many cushions as you need to support your top knee.
- Bending your elbows to 90 degrees will alter the position of the stretch across your chest.
- Stay in the pose for 5+ minutes on each side, letting of tension on every exhalation.


5. Supported Fish

Supported Fish pose to relieve neck pain. Photo credit Paul Baker

Decompresses the back of the neck, opens up the chest and shoulders, increases mobility in the thoracic spine

- Keep the back of your neck long.
- Use as many cushions as you need under your head and mid-back.
- If it is uncomfortable to lie flat, bend your legs, place your feet on the floor and let your knees fall in towards each other.
- Allow your breath to release tension in your jaw and your ribcage.
- Stay in the pose for as long as you need, letting go of tension with every exhalation.

I’ve put this routine with full instructions into a PDF that you can download here: www.yoga15.com/yoga-for-mtb/neck-pain


Part Two: Loosen Up

Another effective way to release tension in the neck and shoulders is myofascial release or foam rolling. Specific areas to target are the upper back, lats, mid-back, and chest.

When you find a sore spot, hold the ball or roller there and take at least five slow breaths before moving onto the next area.


Part Three: Strengthen

The key areas you need to strengthen are the muscles that stabilise your shoulder blades, your core and the front of your neck.

You can find instructions for Locust and Plank in this article: www.yoga15.com/blog/yoga-to-relieve-lower-back-pain. Hold them for as long as you can with proper form, drawing your shoulders away from your ears and squeezing your shoulder blades together.

An exercise you can do to strengthen the muscles in the front of your neck is a simple chin tuck. Standing, sitting or lying, relax your jaw and tuck your chin to your chest. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat this 10 times. You can do it several times throughout the day.


Other things you can do

Posture: One of the best things you can do for neck pain that takes neither time nor money is to work on improving your posture. If you notice that your head is jutting forward, make a mental note to draw it back. Put your hand to the back of your neck periodically throughout the day to check that you are maintaining that gentle inward curve. And keep your chin level. If you are working at a desk, position your screen at eye level. If you notice that you tighten up in the neck and shoulders when you’re concentrating, take a few breaths and consciously try to let go of some of that tension. And try to maintain a more relaxed position on the bike. Not gripping too hard or holding onto unnecessary tension in your upper body.

Yoga: Practice 10–15 minutes of yoga every day to stay loose and relaxed and to let go of all that stress and tension you're holding onto unconsciously.

Other therapies: massage, sauna, ice baths, foam rolling, magnesium supplementation, Epsom salt baths, sensory deprivation tanks, taking time off to relax.


Resources

I have put together a 5-video mini-series to target pain and tightness in the neck, shoulders and upper back. You can find out more and watch your free 3-Minute Upper Body Mobility routine here: Yoga For The Neck And Shoulders

And here is the link to that guide for the relaxation poses: www.yoga15.com/yoga-for-mtb/neck-pain

Please comment below if there are any other stretches that you have found to give you relief from neck and upper back pain.


Previous Yoga with Abi:

Release Tension In The Upper Back and Injury-Proof Your Shoulders
Loosen Up Tight Hips With 3 Types Of Poses
15-Minute Post-Ride Routine Designed To Optimize Your Recovery
Three Levels of Yoga to Relieve Lower Back Pain
Stretches to Relieve a Tight Chest and Stiff Shoulders
The Most Effective Style of Yoga to Increase Your Flexibility
Easy 15-Minute Yoga Routine To Loosen Up Tight Joints
How To Release Tight Quads And Increase Your Power
How To Release Chronically Tight Hamstrings
A Challenging One-Hour Yoga Flow Class
Take Control of Your Mind and Push Your Personal Limits
Yoga To Relieve Pain In Between The Shoulder Blades
15-Minute Routine To Unlock Tight Hips
15-Minute Yoga Routine To Build Core Strength
Short Yoga Routine To Help With Lower Back Pain in Bikers
15-Minute Yoga Routine To Enhance Balance and Agilityl
15-Minute Post-Ride Yoga Routine
8 Quick Yoga Stretches To Do At Work



MENTIONS: @yoga15app



Must Read This Week

85 Comments

  • + 22
 as larry david once said, "there's only two ways you can hurt your neck"...
  • + 4
 "I never saw Michelangelo in a brace!"
  • - 9
flag iamamodel (Sep 25, 2017 at 19:08) (Below Threshold)
 Looking at an erupting volcano? Run Abi, run!
  • + 3
 this "back of the neck" at 12 seconds I do every time when I see me riding on the videos....
  • + 16
 the free stuff we get given on here is golden. thank you once again!!
  • + 4
 My pleasure!
  • + 9
 PERFECT TIMING! Neck has been super tense and sore the past few weeks. Glad to have another helpful tutorial.
  • + 2
 I hope these stretches and relaxing poses help. It might also be worth having a look at your daily work/play habits to see how they are contributing to the tension.
  • + 3
 thanks for the awesome content, abi.

one question i often ask myself is: How can i tell when i am out of alignment? how can i train my brain/body (past just simply trying to stay aware) to notice when small changes occur in my "natural" body alignment. i say "natural" because natural becomes whatever we get used to, and if pain doesnt tell us something is wrong, we may never realize that we are "out of alignment". i feel that this becomes more important once we go through injuries. this question sort of comes up for me with my shoulders' ranges of motion and how different the two are after injury (to both). i feel like mindfulness in how we interpret our body's alignment is a whole other layer of training
  • + 1
 Do it in front of a mirror or if it's not possible, record yourself while you do the exercises. It's better to go smaller and have better form than the opposite.
  • + 0
 You can't know, you have to train your body so that it stays up right. Mobility and strength. No way to get that without work on the gym for posterior chain and upper core. It's your muscles holding you in whatever posture you want to be in. It's the hip hinge and row/anti row movement pattern that keeps your body in optimal shape for biking and "life" in general. As far as yoga is excellent for mobility and some stability it can't provide you with power and MTB stability since it is too much of an isometric exercise.
  • + 3
 @mollow @krazieghost: I think this is good advice. We often think we are perfectly symmetrical when actually we are out of balance and could be doing more harm than good. Mirrors and/or asking a friend to help correct alignment issues.
  • + 4
 I alway (naively) saw yoga as some hippy nonsense before you started doing these on pb, But a mix of you and joe rogan has convinced me otherwise, my back already feels tons better, Thanks abi
  • + 0
 JR the plant rights activist
  • + 0
 @colincolin: except he is a meat eating hunter. Now go try to listen to the show. You would know this. Joe Togan eats a ketogenic diet. Thats how I lost 70lbs
  • + 10
 Joe Rogan is one of the more surprising yoga advocates for sure. Sounds like yoga crucial to keeping him at the top of his game, both mentally and physically. And to be fair, unfortunately so much of yoga is hippy nonsense - it's just that underneath that, there's gold.
  • + 2
 @yoga15app: keepin it real!
  • + 1
 @Biocoug1: I know all of that and he has made some seriously stupid claims like that plants feel pain while arguing that there's no difference if we kill animals or plants for food
  • + 6
 wow, the PB comunity has matured, not a single perv nor white knight comment.
  • + 38
 the day is young
  • + 11
 Every time these posts come up I scroll to the comments and I’m surprised by how mature we all are.
  • + 12
 It's that e-bike thing on Pinkbike - sucked up most of hatosterone and troll growth hormone from people
  • + 2
 @WAKIdesigns: This is PB, we have reserves.
  • + 1
 wow, the PB comunity has matured, not a single perv nor white knight comment.

Yes, but do we have to do Yoga on the beach? Worst cliche ever. Except for maybe doing it on a paddle board. :/
  • - 4
flag JustinLund (Sep 26, 2017 at 8:15) (Below Threshold)
 dAyUM lOoK aT thAt clEaVaGE tHo
  • + 2
 @JustinLund: And that lasted all of about 18hrs. Nice Job. Way to rise to the occasion.
  • + 2
 The pervs came out on her first few posts but they quickly found out this is about the only thing that doesn't fly around here. Honestly when I saw her first post I thought it was going to be a cringe fest but it surprisingly wasn't except for very few exceptions.
  • + 0
 @PLC07: the pervs lasted way more than that, but it wasnt just the pervs the"problem" it was the White Kinghts, I actually think that some of the comment threads between the 2 groups were funny, one group which just didnt care and the other group pathetically preoccupied about the image Amy could get about mountain bikers, the below threshold section was what i was actually looking foward for quite sometime.
  • + 4
 I practice yoga at least twice a week. It keeps me on the trails and I look & feel awesome. We all age. You get to pick how you age. Yoga is a blessing and will keep you young way after your pals have aged out of life.
  • + 2
 Great stuff as always Big Grin

This is super handy for me as I had a motorcycle crash a couple of years ago and I damaged muscle tissue in my shoulder, which also affects my neck. If I sleep funny, I can sometimes give myself a stiff neck that can last weeks.
This should help me no end Big Grin
  • + 2
 Good luck. I'd love to hear which stretches, poses or practices work best for you.
  • + 2
 I wish you were my personal trainer as i need some one to remind me to do these stretch exorsizes. Too many poses to remember . Not only does keeping good posture keep the neck in good shape you look good and feel good about your self too! Thanks for all the helpfull info.
  • + 2
 You can download a printed version of the poses here: www.yoga15.com/yoga-for-mtb/neck-pain. I hope that helps.
  • + 1
 @yoga15app: sweet. done. your awesome!
  • + 1
 @yoga15app: AMAZING. Thank you for this!!!
  • + 1
 @SimonD: Of course. No problem. Let me know how you get on.
  • + 2
 Thank you, Abi, once again for showing us some good stretching moves. The neck stretches are ones that we perform prior to our shifts at work, it helps so much. A few others posted here also were shown to me when I was recovering from back issues. Man! They do wonders to help relax and relieve some pressures.
  • + 1
 Awesome. Let me know if there are other stretches or movements that help you to release the build up of tension.
  • + 1
 @yoga15app: not sure if you have gone over it in the past. But i have rotator cuff muscles that constantly bother me in my left shoulder.
Do you have any stretches or excercises for this? Much appreciated thx
  • + 2
 @kmag76: I recommend you see a really good physical therapist first so that you know exactly what is going on. And Locust, Plank, Downward Dog and Dolphin are great poses for building shoulder strength.
  • + 2
 Get in! My neck is the only real part of me that causes any issue & only recently too. Rest assured I'm actually going to follow this fully and see how I end up. Hopefully it'll stop cracking at deafening volumes throughout the day soon! Thanks Abi!
  • + 2
 No problem. And even if you forget to do the stretches and don't have time for the poses, think about your posture, notice where and when you are holding tension and take a few breaths throughout the day to consciously let go of some of the tightness.
  • + 1
 To be the preferred online yoga inspiration for PB and the Sufferfest is an impressive feat Abi,personally even more impressive from my experience is your free and exceptionally well priced programmes, which are are simply brilliant. And crucially this system really works.. Thank you!!
  • + 1
 Aw! Thanks. I'm just not very good at business!
  • + 1
 Abi, do you think its possible bad sleep posture (if it can be called that) can cause neck and shoulder tension. I feel I wake up with tension in these areas and I wonder if I'm sleeping incorrect, even though I've bought an ergonomic pillow.
  • + 1
 That's not something I am an expert in unfortunately. I personally take magnesium citrate which helps me sleep and is a muscle relaxer. Might be worth a shot.
  • + 1
 You might be clenching/grinding your teeth at night.
  • + 2
 Never done yoga, but a bout of bad hotel rooms, plane travel and crossfit between riding = painful neck and shoulders the past two weeks.

I will give these a bash now.... excited and scared! haha
  • + 1
 Try could also try this 5-minute body scan before you go to bed: www.pinkbike.com/video/452408
  • + 3
 I can't believe "supported fish" does more good than bad. looks like something that one should not be doing. But I'm not an expert, I just pretend to be online.
  • + 2
 I'm tired of trying the yoga on the carpet or whatever comes my way... Abi, can you suggest on what thickness of yogamat I should be looking for? Most I found are only c. 5mm... is that enough? Thanks
  • + 4
 Main reason to get a thicker mat is to provide more cushion, especially useful if you have bad knees. I have a 4mm mat which I thought would help my bad knees, but doesn't really. Instead I use a knee pad ( www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01C3DU4MK ) for poses that involves my knees. As a result, my next yoga mat will be thinner, so it slips less and bunches up less.
  • + 2
 @nord1899: Good advice. Thank you. A heavy mat is more comfortable to practice on but can be a pain to carry around. It's best to try out what works for you.
  • + 2
 how many of you are slouched in a chair, hunched over a phone or keyboard while complaining about a sore neck?
  • + 2
 When I do no. 4, my lower back pops and its the best feeling ever! Like new!
  • + 2
 Gonna try some of this. After my 3 hour ride today, my scoliosis is raging. Thanks Abi & PB! Smile
  • + 2
 No problem. I'd also recommend practicing Plank and Side Plank every day for a minute each: www.yoga15.com/side-plank
  • + 1
 @yoga15app broke my collarbone but have a lot of movement, would these be alright for me to do? Thanks! you're the best Abi.
-Cheers, JP
  • + 1
 You want to move your neck and shoulders as much as you can without causing pain. And check in with what's going on with this Body Scan meditation: www.pinkbike.com/video/452408
  • + 3
 much thnx, abby. this is good stuff.
  • + 2
 My pleasure. Let me know if you have any questions.
  • + 2
 I herniated a disc in my neck at Highland... biking sucks for your neck!!! Chin tucks are helping to strengthen.
  • + 2
 I had issues with my knees and after following some of these stretches I have not had any pain since... Thank you.
  • + 1
 Awesome! Good work.
  • + 3
 Yoga for neck pain. Sounds like Yoga for Hucks to flat Smile
  • + 4
 I love puppies.
  • + 2
 Wow, my symptoms to a "t"
  • + 3
 Thank you!
  • + 2
 Exactly what I need after yesterday's ESC Enduro 6-stager. Thanks!
  • + 1
 Should do the trick!
  • + 1
 This is great, it's my complete with Mt.biking it hurts my neck. That why I'm going to buy a coil fork!
  • + 2
 This is fantastic! got any yoga for lower back?
  • + 1
 Check out this article: www.yoga15.com/blog/yoga-to-relieve-lower-back-pain and I have a video on my You Tube channel that is pretty effective.
  • + 1
 @yoga15app: Thank you so much, abi.
  • + 1
 Will Yoga help me do a backflip???
  • + 0
 Yup! At least you wont kill yourself if you crash. Highly recomended!
  • + 1
 I always get a stiff neck after dog!
  • + 1
 This was great, thanks.
  • + 1
 No worries. New article and video coming soon.
  • - 1
 DDP Yoga can help you more than this.
  • + 1
 Is that the same as QP?
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