Are the holidays both a figurative and literal pain in your neck?
Acupuncture is here to help!
When we are experiencing emotional stress, our bodies will naturally respond the same as they would to an actual physical threat. Our sympathetic nervous system, AKA “fight or flight response,” causes notable symptoms of acceleration of heart rate and breathing, flushing or paling of the skin, and a dilation of muscular blood vessels. Similarly, our bodies often hold a defensive posture meant to protect our internal organs when we can neither fight nor run away. Think about the parts of your body involved in curling up into a tight ball: your shoulders round and lift towards your ears, which creates tension in the muscles of your neck and shoulders, your back rounds forward, and your arms pull in toward your midline. Take away fulling rolling into a ball, and this tensed position is one that we often fall into subconsciously, especially if any significant amount of time is spent in front of the computer.
If you suffer from tight muscles in your neck and shoulders, try this:
1. Contract the muscles of your neck and shoulders by raising your shoulders up towards your ears.
2. Contract as hard as you can (pain-free) and hold for ten seconds.
3. Lower your shoulders and actively pull them down and away from your ears.
Notice a difference? That’s because you just performed proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or “PNF” for short. When we tightly contract our muscles, we active our Golgi tendon reflex, a protective feedback mechanism that causes relaxation of a muscle in response to high tendon tension (in this case, firm contraction of our neck and shoulder muscles). As we actively draw our shoulders down and away from our ears, we activate the muscles that are antagonistic to the muscles we just contracted, stimulating the relaxation of the original contracted muscles. All that to say, actively tensing and stretching your neck and shoulder muscles will help create a softening and relaxation of those muscles.
A recent study found that acupuncture effectively reduces referred and local pain in the trapezius muscles. You know those spots on the tops of your shoulders that tend to get knotted and tight when you’re stressed? Those are your trapezius muscles, commonly referred to as your “traps”. Insertion of needles into acupuncture and trigger points in your neck and shoulders stimulates relaxation of these muscles, even muscles that have been bound and knotted up over years of tension, tightness, and subconscious muscular contraction. If you are someone who suffers from chronic or acute neck and shoulder tension, try the exercise above and consider trying acupuncture. You may find the relief you have been seeking!