Neck pain is a horrible thing for anyone to experience but if you’re a new mom with the physical demands of taking care of an infant, it can be debilitating. Neck pain can be associated with stiffness, loss of motion, numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness and often times changes the way we hold our head as well as the way we move.
Posture can play a significant role in how our neck feels. Remember that adorable little kid from Jerry Maguire, “Did you know that the human head weighs 8 pounds!”. That is a lot of weight for your neck to support and it relies heavily on good posture to make the joints, muscles, and ligaments work efficiently. When the spinal structures aren’t working together like they should, it can lead to muscle strain, joint stiffness, nerve irritation, loss of motion, pain, muscle tightness, numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness.
So why is neck pain so common postpartum? Throughout pregnancy our bodies adapt to a growing belly and shifting center of gravity. Our posture adjusts to keep up with these changes, altering the normal balance of our muscles. The added hormonal changes which create more laxity in the ligaments can contribute to a decline in tissue support. So once you’ve had your baby, that 8 pounds can be really difficult to hold up all day. Add another 8 pounds in your arms and voila, you’ve got neck pain.
Luckily, there are things you can do to minimize the strain on your neck until you can restore good muscle balance.
Becoming more aware of your posture is key! Try performing chin tucks like in this video to help retrain your muscles. Remember to maintain good cervical alignment (by performing a small chin tuck) before lifting your baby or anything heavy.
Adding support to help maintain good posture when sitting, nursing, and holding your baby can reduce strain. Try placing pillows or a Boppy under your baby and arms and a small pillow behind your head for added support. Providing more support for your spine when sleeping can also go a long way in reducing soreness. Check out our sleep strategies video for a better night’s sleep! Participating in regular exercise can help reduce tension and improve mobility but make sure that you are able to maintain good posture throughout the workout and avoid exercises that increase muscle strain. If you make posture a priority when exercising you’ll find that the weaker muscles in the neck that help to hold your head up will get stronger and the tighter muscles will become less sore and painful. Addressing weakness in the muscles around the shoulder blades and along the spine is also important for improving posture and reducing tension in the neck.
Improving muscle balance can take 6-8 weeks, but if you are patient and consistent you should notice fewer symptoms and less difficulty with activities like lifting your baby, pushing your stroller, and driving. Need a little extra guidance? Postpartum recovery programs like Back After Baby provide targeted exercises and detailed instructions every step of the way to help keep you on track and ensure success. If symptoms persist, you’ll want to consult with your local physical therapist or physician.
Neck pain is common postpartum, but is not normal. Listen to your body and if you begin experiencing neck pain or stiffness remember there are things you can do to feel better!