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Why is my neck tight all the time?!

Recently, I took a refresher virtual course on mobilizing the vagus nerves through the Institute of Physical Art (IPA). I last covered this material during the COVID lockdown in 2020 so it was wonderful to go through it again. In this course, the instructor Gregg Johnson mentioned an article called, "Is cervical region tightness related to vagal function and stomach symptoms?". I loved the ideas around this article because they make perfect sense.

The vagus nerves travel from our skull down both sides of our neck. They then take a dive to our heart and our organs. Information is sent between our organs and our brain via the vagus nerves (as well as the enteric nervous system but that's for a different post). The vagus nerves also get the spotlight for our parasympathetic tone (rest, digest, heal). If our neck muscles and fascia are restricted, the vagus nerves are one of the many parts of our cervical spine anatomy that aren't able to slide and glide through this area. With decreased mobility, they become less efficient at doing their job. Cue the potential for poor sleep, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, poor digestion, and anxiety. Due to this aforementioned article, I was moved to discuss what leads to neck tightness and tips you can do to address this.

Here are some common causes for neck tightness and what you can do about it. Click each idea to learn more:

Your shoulders are shrugged when you are on your computer or driving in your car.

The Deal: Desk and car set up if everything if spend a lot of time there. Shoulders are shrugged at the desk or car if the keyboard or steering wheel are too high, the chair height is too low, or shoulders are up and forward when there is stress.

What To Do: The ideal position is to have your elbows next to your sides with support on an arm rest or some folded pillows. Ideally the elbows are bent around 90 degrees to use the keyboard. Yes, this usually means getting a bluetooth keyboard if you're on a laptop so you have more options of where to put it. Personally, having my bluetooth keyboard on a book on my lap is the most comfortable when I'm on my laptop. The screen needs to be at eye level. This is a similar set up for the car. As for the upper shoulder and neck tension from stress, this is where awareness is huge. Checking in with your body periodically is the first step in recognizing if you're "holding" or "posturing" there. Set yourself a timer to remind yourself throughout the work day. Doing a quick meditation (when you're not driving!) can also do wonders.

You breathe using your neck muscles.

Your pillow isn't the right fit.

You shrug your shoulders whenever you are picking up, pushing, or pulling.

The core muscles in your neck are weak.

Some others...

I hope these are helpful! Please reach out with questions or comments!

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