Stiff neck occurs usually when an individual holds improper positions for long or extended periods of time, putting the neck under prolonged stress.
Causes of the stiff neck when sitting
In this modern age, a stiff neck when sitting is arguably the most common neck tension we feel. The ideal position of the neck when sitting down is a long, straight neck with the crown of the head reaching up. Hence, the following unnatural or abnormal positions stress the neck:
- Slouching or looking down at a screen all day, whether it is a laptop, desktop, tablet, e-book reader, or mobile phone.
- Sitting with bent or forward-leaning neck while watching television, reading books, doing chores, or while driving.
- Sitting with the neck twisted sideways while commuting or while watching or looking at something at the left or right.
- Sitting with neck stretched on one side such as the “thinking pose” or “sad pose” where the forehead or the side of the forehead is rested on the upright hand or fist, or when scrunching the neck to hold the phone between the ears and the shoulder to talk to someone over the phone while the hands are preoccupied with other tasks.
A stiff neck is the body’s natural way of telling a person that the neck has been overstretched or strained, and so the body is pulling its protective gear and clenching the affected area to prevent further strain and injury.
You may also experience a stiff neck when sitting because of the wrong sleeping position! Learn more: Best sleeping position for a sore neck
How to get rid of a stiff neck?
A person suffering from a stiff neck can help the body heal faster and better by doing the following treatments.
- Rest for a couple of days to give the body time and space to heal.
- A hot or cold compress can give immediate relief. Cold compress reduces inflammation while hot compress fosters better blood circulation.
- Light stretching as well as low-impact aerobic exercises also help promote healing and prepare the body to function normally again. Note that these exercises must be light and low-impact, and must not jerk the muscles and joints, as overexertion can worsen pain and strain.
- Aside from hot and ice packs and aerobic stretching, massaging the sore spot can also provide immediate relief, at no cost and requiring no props because only hands are needed. Liniments and balms are just optional. Massage can be given by a loved one or can be done on your own self. There are several massage exercise videos, tips, and resources available online and offline; but really, massage seems to be an innate human instinct to address soreness, stiffness, and pain.
Indeed, simple neck massages can relieve tension and relax stiff muscles. One can simultaneously massage and stretch the neck by gently moving the neck sideways while using the hands and fingers to lightly massage the side and back muscles of the neck. This exercise gives the neck a light stretch and improves circulation in the shoulder and head region. This can also be done every day to prevent tension from building up.
Simple neck massage to ease muscle tension on the sides of the neck and to improve circulation, concentration, and memory:
- Bring the two palms to each side of the neck.
- Drop-head a little to the back.
- Drop the head to the left side.
- Use the left hand to slowly squeeze the back and left side muscles of the neck.
- Repeat on the right side.
- Move slowly from side to side, squeezing strongly but still comfortably.
- With each sideways movement, move a little upward on your neck.
- When done, bow down.
- If tension remains, you can repeat the exercise once a day.
Neck massage is good not just for relieving physical stress, but also for relieving inner stress or mental turmoil. It is therapeutic to rub the side and back of the neck and to feeling the tense muscles relax and loosen up, and in the process, one can somehow feel the stress starting to lift away also, even just for a moment. Afterwards, improved blood flow can help in actually dealing with the causes of one’s stress and solving problems.
A neck massage to relieve stiff neck when sitting:
- Bring both hands to the side of the neck.
- Massage bottom of the neck. Rub as strongly as you feel comfortable.
- Slowly bring your head back a bit.
- Slowly move hands upward, until you reach the nape.
- Bow down.
- Repeat a couple of times.
NB! As a disclaimer, if stiff neck persists for more than a week, if it worsens, if other symptoms arise, or if it comes after a trauma or injury, it is best to consult a doctor.
On a final note, the cliché holds true, that prevention is better than cure. A stiff neck can be prevented by mindfully practicing proper posture. It can be as simple as sitting straight, not slouching, and not scrunching the shoulders and neck. Or perhaps as setting reminders to take frequent breaks when looking at screens and also when driving.
Sometimes though, it requires more effort and change in systems such as putting all screens and monitors at eye level, replacing old chairs with ergonomic ones, or setting aside time in daily schedule to just stretch and massage the neck.