Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When Making Stuff is a Real Pain in the Neck

As jewelry and bead makers, we can spend hours abusing our bodies. I know my neck, shoulders, and the area between my shoulder blades like to scream at me incessantly when I spend any time at all making stuff. And in fact, I've had a chiropractor, physical therapy, and massage treatments. As a result, I have learned several things about treating the muscle soreness that results.

Disclosure: I am not a doctor or physical therapist or anyone who can officially speak with any actual authority. I am just sharing what I've learned and what works for me.

#1 - This is probably the most universal tip, but is also probably universally ignored: Take frequent breaks. Set a timer if you need to. I'm not going to lie. I don't like this tip much because when I am in the moment, and things are going smoothly, the last thing I want to do is break my momentum. You run the risk of losing momentum for the rest of the day.

However, your body will thank and reward you if you take short frequent breaks to do some counteractive stretches. What kind of stretches?

#2 - Do neck stretches. I don't typically roll my head around. I've learned that stretches held for a longer time are more beneficial for me. I hold my head to one side, letting the weight pull itself towards my shoulder. At the same time, I stretch my arms down like I'm trying to touch the floor without bending. Hold for 10-15 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Try other angles.

#3 - Stretch the area between shoulders and chest. Go to a door frame. Place a hand on each side of it. Then take a step forward and lean forward. Don't lean so far that you fall. You are just trying to get a good stretch to open up your chest muscles and counteract all the hunching over you've been doing. Hold the stretch for 10-20 seconds.

#4 - When your muscles are really screaming at you and these stretches aren't enough, you need to bring out the secret weapon. Luckily, I am going to share my secret weapon with all of you. Two tennis balls, a sock that will fit both tennis balls, and a hand towel. That's it. The idea is you are doing a type of self massage (or muscle release) with these tennis balls.

After placing both tennis balls in the sock, you are going to pinpoint an area along your spine (this works on any spot) that is particularly painful then lay down and position the tennis balls so one lays on either side of the spine in the problem area. I lay on the floor to do this, but it can sometimes be pretty intense. So if it's too uncomfortable, do it on a bed or sofa. Just understand that the more cushy the surface you're laying on, the less effective the tennis balls will be because your body weight will push them down into the mattress or cushions.

Lay on the tennis balls in the problem area for 2-5 minutes. You will actually feel the muscle release and relax.

When the tennis balls won't stay put (due to the curvature of the spine-especially the neck), roll the hand towel and use it as a stopper for the tennis balls rolling out of place.

#5 - Additionally, you can use a rubber ball, slightly deflated, about 4" diameter, and lean against the wall with the rubber ball placed at the problem spot to accomplish the same thing. I personally prefer the tennis balls, but this works too.

#6 - If you want to spend money, there are several products made that are quite effective. I have something similar to this therapy roll.

There are probably 100's of videos on how to use them, but I use mine by placing it under my back in the shoulder blade area, hands under my head like I'm going to do a sit-up, then just roll forward and back using my legs. It's amazing! I will also lay on it with it running along my spine, the base of my skull resting on the edge, then hold my arms straight out. It's a great stretch for the chest, spine, and targets tight muscles in my neck in a similar manner to the tennis balls.

Another tool I've been coveting, especially to help with the tough to reach shoulder tightness, is a therapy cane like the Back Buddy (which helps to target several areas).

These are just a few of the several (100's? 1000's?) exercises that help make your neck and back happier to comply with the hours you spend hunched over your bench.


  1. You are now my new best friend for telling me about the Back Buddy.

  2. I have a theracane I bought at my physical therapist's recommendation. I got it on it allows me to massage all those knots created by working too long.

  3. I have severe arthritis in my spine and I have one of those therapy rolls. I need to use it more consistently. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. I cant get up from the bed without stretching first thing in the morning. After going through a series of all kind traditional, alternate and modern medicines therapies I have found that morning stretches are the easiest way to manage pain. exercising only the neck or back isnt enough, atleast in my case I need to follow through with exercising my hands, fingers, legs and feet


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