I could confidently say that almost every adult on the planet knows how it feels to have neck tension or stiffness. There are a million reasons why this might be, but I am pretty confident when I say that it is probably because we are not using our necks the right way. I think we under utilise them.
Our necks have a difficult job. They have to carry the weight of our heads, which can be up to about 5kg, and move it about in any direction we require. The muscles of our upper back and neck quickly respond to the world around us – when we hear something over our shoulder we immediately orient our eyes and ears toward that noise, so we can identify and analyse it to ensure it isn’t a threat. Our nervous system and our neck work together to do this, subconsciously and automatically. So, our necks need to be strong and mobile. And, like the rest of the spinal column it also needs to protect our spinal cord as it passes through.
We have seven cervical vertebrae, with many joints in between, making up the neck. Like a symphony orchestra, when all these structures work in unison it is a joy, but when one part of the ensemble is out of pitch it can affect the whole performance. This is very true of the neck, and quite often a single facet joint misbehaving or causing pain can be enough to impair movement and function of the whole complex.
Many of us put our necks under constant strain because we do a lot of our work and study staring at a computer, and a lot of our ‘relaxing’ involves staring at a TV screen. Our neck is designed for movement, not to remain still. Simply put, there is no perfect posture you can use when doing these activities for hours on end. Sitting for long periods is always going to put strain on your neck – it is just not what it was designed to do – or what it has evolved to do, more accurately.
How well our neck functions is largely dependent on what we do with it day in and day out. So, if you are not moving it frequently enough your neck can become stiff and tight.