Pain and discomfort felt in the neck can be due to trauma in the cervical spine. This can occur as a result of a road traffic accident, a fall from a height, osteoarthritis, spondylosis and postural deviations altering neck alignment. Pain can be referred to the base of the skull, the back and side of the head towards the brow area and lower down into the shoulder, scapular area and into the chest wall. It can sometimes be accompanied by headaches, migraine, or feeling dizzy and breathless. It is important to release tension in the upper fibres of the shoulder and chest muscles by learning how to breathe properly in order to help manage neck pain.

The steps below offer a starting point from which you can take a proactive approach towards managing your neck pain.

  1. Initially practice releasing and mobilising your neck lying down, supporting your head with a flat pillow. This will reduce the pressure on the intervertebral discs in your spine and neck. If you have very round shoulders and upper back you may find you will need more support for your head. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor and have your arms at your side. Allow your body to relax. Be mindful of your breathing. Direct your breath into your lower ribs and as you inhale allow the ribs to expand out from your sides and into your back, and as you exhale let the ribs soften. Your body should remain still and relaxed throughout. Practice this breathing technique for a few moments.
  2. Notice the tension in your shoulders. Turning your palms up towards the ceiling opens the front of your shoulders to allow more space. On your next exhalation, allow your shoulders to melt into the mat and begin to let the pillow take the weight of your head. Now imagine a piece of string from the crown of your head and one from your tail bone, and begin to lengthen your spine. Avoid tensing your body and focus on your breath.
  3. Avoid lifting your head and inhale to gently lengthen the back of your neck looking towards your knees. This will result in a small chin nod. Exhale to release. Repeat 5 times and stop if you feel at all uncomfortable. Avoid taking the head behind you into extension. Movements should be performed slowly. Feel the back of the head connect with the pillow for a neutral neck position.
  4. Inhale and begin to roll your head to the right being mindful to keep your head heavy and relaxed. Exhale to return your head to neutral position. Repeat 5 times each way and stop if this is uncomfortable.
  5. Return to focus on your breathing and direct it into the lower ribs.This will help to relax the secondary breathing muscles in your neck and shoulders, and develop a better connection with the primary system – intercostals, diaphragm and abdominals.
  6. Slide your right arm along the floor until it is slightly lower than the shoulder and repeat this for the left arm. Both arms are now out to the side with palms up towards the ceiling. You may feel a slight stretch across the chest. Relax and breathe in this position for a few minutes to aid relaxation of the chest muscles.
  7. Now slide your arms back down to your thighs and bring your feet and knees together. Gently roll onto your right side without lifting your head. Stay in this position for a few moments.
  8. Come onto your hands and knees and stay in this position to allow your spine to settle before getting from the floor.

Please note the above exercise is by no means an alternative to seeking medical advice. Please see your GP if you have issues relating to neck and or pain in your spine. They are designed to improve mobility and segmental control in your cervical spine. If you have been given neck stretches to practice, please make sure these have been prescribed by a certified health professional. Over-stretching of the structures in the neck can lead to instability and damage to ligaments.