Neck and Shoulder Fixes – One Month Report

Well, the past month hasn’t been good. The tightness in my neck and shoulders is actually worse than they were a month ago when I outlined my plan in the post Overview of the Ideas to Fix My Neck and Shoulders. A quick recap.

  1. Slow Daily Rowing – I had to stop this as it made my back mid-back sore and caused muscle spasms. When I reduced the frequency those problems went away, but it didn’t help with tightness. Also I didn’t really enjoy it.
  2. MSM – I supplemented with 1000-2000 mg of MSM daily. I’l continue to use the bottle until empty, but I don’t see it helping.
  3. Mobility exercises – I still do these, but I don’t them helping.
  4. Some isometric neck exercises – See this page. I just started this, so I’ll continue slowly with it. Nothing so far.
  5. Lying on the floor breaks – Actually I love this idea I got from Txomin and Stephan. It is very calming and I’ve found increased energy and effectiveness when returning to work. However, it hasn’t helped my neck or shoulders yet.

I just thought of another theory on why my neck, shoulders and recently back are feeling more achy. When I went from 210 pounds to 190 pounds, a lot of my stiffness went away. I was chalking it up to eating a lower inflammatory diet, but it might just be a weight thing. So when I increased my weight recently, it might have increased the stiffness. Dropping 10 pounds should tell me if that is the culprit.

My focus for the next month will be on losing some weight, more lying breaks and breathing exercises. I’ll do one isometric neck exercises session a week.

Overview of the Ideas To Fix My Neck and Shoulder

I’m sorry this post has taken so long. When I asked for ideas to Help me Fix My Neck and Shoulders, I got way more feedback than I ever expected. To say I was overwhelmed would be understatement. I actually got more ideas than I could ever implement. The more I started exploring these ideas and their criticisms, the more confused I got. Below is a list of the ideas I received from the comments broken down into groups.

Before I list out the ideas, I think I may have asked the wrong the question. It isn’t just about fixing the problem, but identifying what causes it and what could have prevented it. I still don’t know why my neck and shoulders are tight. I can assume it is because I work at a desk, but others that work at a desk don’t experience the same level of tightness. The correct way to solve this problem is to isolate cause first, which is something I haven’t figured out. To date, I have just dived head first into finding the cure and it has gotten me no where.

Mobility

  1. Mobility Exercises (such as the 3 Minutes routine)
  2. Perform ball massage. (Mobility WOD)
  3. Yoga

Although I feel good when I do mobility work, it hasn’t done anything to relieve tightness. I experimented with some exercises on the Mobility WOD website and although I could feel what he was talking about, they did nothing for the tightness. By the way, does anyone else get dizzy watching his videos? He needs a tripod badly.

Mind

  1. Mind Body 

Could the back pain I cured via Dr. Sarno have moved north to my neck and shoulders? Did I trade pain for stiffness? Is this mind body? Beats me. My hunch is that it isn’t, but I’m not sure.

Lifestyle, Gadgets

  1. Use no pillow.
  2. Sleep on the floor.
  3. Type of chair, chair settings
  4. Theracane
  5. Yoga needles on a rubber pad

I have not tried #1 or #2 yet. As for #3, I do need to reupholster my computer chair, but I have no clue how to do it. Maybe I’ll just buy a new chair. Seems wasteful though. I liked the Theracane, but found it too addicting and it didn’t have any long term benefits. I also went to a store and tried all the different Yoga needle mats and pillows. Couldn’t feel anything, so I didn’t buy one.

This Way

Photo by Lori Greig

Dietary

  1. Foods that are inflammatory. 
  2. Caffeine?

I have yet to find a food that triggers inflammation. Doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist, just means I haven’t found it. I could start by doing a nightshade elimination diet, which many people with pain have found helpful.

The book Trigger Point Therapy for Headaches and Migraines: Your Self -Treatment Workbook for Pain Relief by Valerie DeLaune said this about caffeine:

Caffeine causes a persistent contracture of muscle fibers (sometimes referred to as “caffeine rigor”) and increases muscle tension and trigger point irritability…

Other than that book and some PubMed references to frogs, I couldn’t additional information about “caffeine rigor”. Is it real? I will be doing a longer caffeine detox later this year, so in a way I will be testing this idea out. However, I have no clue how long one needs to be off caffeine to rid themselves of “caffeine rigor”, assuming it even exists.

Strength

  1. Nautilus based neck strengthening exercises
  2. Shrugs
  3. Home neck exercises?

This was actually the most interesting idea in the comment thread. Instead of avoiding load bearing exercises, one would use them to make the region stronger. So far the only neck exercises I’ve been aware are more static stretches, which I do regularly, but haven’t helped. I’m going to start some light isometric neck exercises.

Professionals

  1. Trigger Point Therapy
  2. Rolfing
  3. CranioSacral Therapy
  4. Massage
  5. Chiropractor
  6. Active Release Therapy
  7. Nautilus Strength
  8. Feldenkrais Method
  9. Alexander Technique

As I’ve stated many times on this blog, my track record with health professionals has been abysmal. They bleed my money and I feel better in the short run, but they never fix anything. I’ve been addicted to the endorphin release of both massage and chiropractic services. It is expensive and frustrating. This is why I want to take a DIY approach to solving this riddle. If I have to go to a health professional, it is because they are teaching me something that I can’t learn on my own. With that said, I will be taking a class on the Feldenkrais Method, because I found the library books on the topic to be bewildering.

Since December

Since my Help Me post, I have continued doing neck mobility and the 3 Minutes routine. I have also experimented with the ball massage, foam rollers and spent a few weeks attempting to do Trigger Point Therapy. None of has helped. In fact, I think the Trigger Point work made things worse, which I covered in the post Kefir, Caffeine and Trigger point Therapy. I have also resumed doing shoulder presses at the gym. I falsely associated that movement with tight shoulders. It appears to be innocent.

My plan now is to learn about Feldenkrais, continue the 3 Minutes routine, do some isometric neck exercises and fix my chair. Then I’ll attempt to take a nap on the floor at first – with and without a pillow. That should be a good start. I’ll also prepare a nightshade elimination test along with exploring a low inflammation diet, although I don’t think that is the cause. The “caffeine rigor” thing is puzzling to me as are the roots of the tightness.

Kefir, Caffeine and Trigger Point Therapy

I’ve got three health items on my mind today.

Is Dairy Kefir Anabolic?

About a month ago I started making dairy kefir again. I stopped making kefir a year ago when I started getting a reaction to water kefir. Then I learned about the high level of histamines, which may have been triggering some of my headaches. I started The Low Histamine Diet last May and did it for over a month. Seems I didn’t post a follow-up. The results were that greatly reducing histamine levels did not help with my headaches. I forgot all about kefir.

Then a friend of mine started making kefir. He offered grains to me. My initial thought was the headaches I got from kefir, but that was water kefir. I never had an issue with dairy kefir, so I started making the dairy ferment once again. And I am loving it. My kefir tastes great and I’m even mixing in a little half and half to get a thicker texture.

The interesting thing I’ve noticed in the last month is that I may have gained some muscle. This was unexpected, as my workouts have not been that intense recently. I’ve often read how milk is anabolic, but I haven’t really drank much since I was a child. Kefir should be equally anabolic. Who knows? I’ll keep drinking it.

Caffeine Might Be Making Me Jittery

It appears I am going to have to really cut back on caffeine again. My plan was to survive on a lower level until spring and then do a longer detox. Even though I’m consuming half the caffeine I did prior to my October 2012 detox, I am finding myself feeling jittery. I’ve never felt jittery on caffeine before.

The good new is cutting back on caffeine should be much easier than the last time.

Unsure about Trigger Point Therapy

In the post Help Me Fix My Neck and Shoulders, one of the ideas in the comments was Trigger Point Therapy. I am new to this topic, so I got a few books from the library. The books showed me where I could apply pressure to relieve tightness in my neck and shoulders. Although my neck and shoulders weren’t in terrible shape, I had been interested in loosening up that area to provide more free movement.

The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, Second Edition
The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, Second Edition by Clair Davies

Using the books, I was able to locate the points, apply pressure and feel what felt like knots loosening up. So at first, it appears this stuff was working. The problem I experienced was the tightness kept returning and it felt like it was getting worse. The more time I spent doing Trigger Point Therapy, the better I felt in the short term, but the tighter I felt later. This is when I thought about Dr. John Sarno and and my battle with back pain.

I posted on Dr. Sarno in The Psychology of Back Pain.

Dr. John Sarno specializes in patients that deal with chronic back pain. He believes that stress is the major cause of back pain. When we go through periods of chronic stress, the brain uses a diversion tactic to protect us emotionally. That diversion is to manifest REAL PHYSICAL pain, often in the lower back region. The pain is real. It is not in our head. The roots however are psychological.

One of recommendations Dr. Sarno tells his patients is to stop all forms of treatment, because that treatment is validating the physical manifestation of the pain. It does nothing to address its roots. When I began to suspect that Trigger Point Therapy was making my neck worse in the same manner, I stopped it. Within a few days, my neck felt better on its own. Not perfect, but back where I started.

I can see where Trigger Point Therapy might help with injuries. See Foam Rolling & Trigger Point Activation on Biohacks for one example.

Last Words

So I’m loving the dairy kefir, cutting back on caffeine and stopping the Trigger Point Therapy. Love to hear your thoughts.

Help Me Fix My Neck and Shoulders

Most of the health posts on this site are me sharing what I’ve learned. For this post, I am openly asking for your help. For several years, I have had tight neck and shoulder muscles. Although I rarely would say that I am in pain, it has been an annoyance. All my other health markers have improved, including headaches, except this. I have done the conventional advice and it has not helped.

Photo by Roland

More Detail

The back of my neck and shoulders are often very tight. I have done all the more popular neck exercises. See the chart on this page. When I do these exercises on a consistent basis, my range of motion increases, however they have done nothing to reduce the tightness. When doing the Trapezius Stretch (exercise #1) on the chart, I can lower my ear all the way to my shoulder on both sides. I have excellent mobility, but it is still tight.

When I move my neck quickly, I get a minor jolt of pain. As a result, I tend to turn to look more with my upper torso than my neck. Even though I am a champ when it comes to parallel parking, I can really feel the restricted movement in my neck when I park. I also get a minor jolt of pain if I jump down. On the rare times I do sprint, I have to keep my form perfect and my neck fixed.

The tightness used to be more pronounced on my right side, which is my dominant hand. Since switching to a vertical mouse, the tightness is more centrally located with only a slight bias toward the right.

Deep tissue massage feels wonderful and helps a lot, but it is costly, so I rarely get a massage. A few months ago my neck was in such awful shape that I had an hour massage where the massage giver was only able to work out about half the tension. Normally I would suspect they were trying to up sell more sessions, but I knew they were right. Ideally, I’d like to have a neck and shoulders that didn’t require regular professional maintenence.

As much as I love and have benefited the exercises in 3 Minutes to a Pain-Free Life, I have gotten no relief from their neck exercises. I also have stopped doing shoulder lifts in the gym, as I have found they make me even tighter.

I do the Sky Reach stretch from 3 Minutes to a Pain-Free Life daily. I feels good and I do now have full range motion, but my shoulders still feel tight. 

When I chased down the root cause of my back pain, I discovered it was psychological. Although there could be a stress root, this seems totally different. The back pain was not subtle. It was intense and quite distracting. It spiked during periods of stress and disappeared during periods of low stress. The neck and shoulder tightness almost never surfaces as pain and those times when has been painful, the pain level was very low compared to prior back pain. The neck and shoulder tightness rarely demands my attention, which makes me skeptical it has stress roots. That analysis is based off what I’ve read by Dr. Sarno and others that are experts in the field. Also the neck and shoulder tightness pre-dates my back pain and exists today post back pain.

Other tidbits:

  • My posture is much better than it used to be, which has helped a little.
  • I drive a lot less than I used to, which helped my back, but not my neck and shoulders.
  • Although I am at a desk a lot, the time I spend sitting varies.
  • I have been supplementing with various forms of Magnesium daily for years. No help.
  • Both heat and ice feel good, but I haven’t detected a pattern where they actually fix the problem.
  • I have changed pillows numerous times. From normal to thin to a rolled-up towel. No one pillow is the cause or cure.
  • Years ago I tried chiropractic sessions. I believe that charlatan made my neck worse.

Any ideas? If you’ve read this far and think you have an idea on how I can reduce my neck and shoulder tightness, please leave me a comment. Thank you.