Everyone experiences feelings of tightness, stiffness and pain in their upper back and neck from time to time. You may even experience these symptoms more often than not, especially if you spend most of your day sitting slumped over your computer. Stretching and lengthening the muscles in your neck and upper back with yoga may help alleviate or eliminate symptoms of tightness and pain, increase the range of motion in your neck and upper back, and promote improved posture.
Most cases of upper-back and neck pain are caused by poor posture, stress and injury, says chiropractor David Dwyer. Stress results in tension and muscle tightness and affects your posture. Certain injuries like whiplash can also cause or exacerbate upper-back and neck pain. According to Lori Corbin, certified personal trainer and nutrition and fitness reporter for ABC7 Eyewitness News, desk workers and people who spend extended hours in front of their computers often suffer from a forward head posture, one of the most common types of poor posture that generally leads to neck, shoulder and back tightness and pain.
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga may provide physical, psychological and energetic benefits for stress and postural-related neck and upper-back pain, according to yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine Carol Krucoff in her book, "Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain: Easy, Effective Practices for Releasing Tension and Relieving Pain." On the physical level, yoga helps stretch tight, stiff muscles, increases flexibility and promotes an improved range of motion. Psychologically, yoga may equip you with enhanced stress management and relaxation skills. On the energetic level, Krucoff states that yoga may also help promote the healthy flow of "prana," or your life force energy, which can reduce physical and emotional blockages in your back, neck and entire body.
Specific yoga poses and exercises may help restore your range of motion, increase flexibility in your neck and upper back, and improve poor posture and the forward-head position, according to physician and certified Iyengar yoga instructor Mary Pullig Schatz in her book, "Back Care Basics: A Doctor's Gentle Yoga Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief." The poses include yoga neck stretches, kneeling backbends, arm raises and supported, restorative poses combined with breath work and imagery exercises.
Certain yoga postures should be avoided or modified if you suffer from neck and upper-back pain. According to Schatz, traditional head-rolling stretches and exercises can be hazardous and should be avoided. Yoga for your neck and upper back should not cause or exacerbate pain. Obtain clearance from your doctor before beginning a yoga practice, especially if you suffer from a medical condition or injury that may affect your ability to perform yoga. The Mayo Clinic advises you to consult your doctor if neck and upper-back tightness persists or is accompanied by other troublesome symptoms, such as shooting pains down your arm, numbness or loss of strength in your arms or hands, or changes in your bladder and bowel movements.
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.