Beverly Hosford by Beverly Hosford

You roll out of bed and suddenly you feel it—a stifling pain in your neck. You can’t move your head without feeling an unwelcome twinge, and stretching doesn’t help. What have you done?

Chances are, it wasn’t a single movement that caused this pain. Rather, it’s probably an issue that’s been building over time—the culmination of misaligned body positions, repetitive movements and other aspects of your environment that caught up to you on this unfortunate morning.

While some chronic pain may be caused by arthritis, permanent tissue damage or a long-standing injury, others are the results of harmful patterns repeated day after day. For example, sitting for extended periods of time can be tough on your back and neck because it puts your pelvis in an extreme position, especially if you cross your legs or hang forward.

But here’s some good news: Once you become aware of some of these habits and postures, you can start to modify them, which can help reduce your pain. Here are some easy modifications you can make to prevent your next episode of neck pain from ruining your day.

Relax your jaw.

We often clench our jaws unknowingly, especially when chewing gum. The muscles that help you chew are connected to your neck. Relax your jaw right now by letting your mouth hang open (picture a person asleep on a plane and try to imitate that level of relaxation in your face). It’s silly, yes, but relaxing!

Open your chest.

Many of the torso muscles attach to parts of your shoulder that, in turn, connect to your neck. The joints in the human body are all joined like a chain of paper clips. If you move one, the others are affected. To counteract these tight muscles, lie on the floor, spread your arms out to the sides and breathe deeply for three to five minutes.

Align your hips.

Keep your knees facing straight ahead rather than letting them turn in or out excessively. Align them with your ankle joint rather than letting them bow out or sag inward. And try to avoid crossing your legs when sitting, as this pulls your spine out of alignment.

Walk softly.

The lighter you step, the easier it is on your spine. Use your muscles to decelerate when you step—don’t just stomp or flop your feet down. See how quiet you can be with each step.

Wear supportive shoes.

Just like a car, you need good shock absorbers or your frame will show early wear. Stand with your weight distributed evenly between both legs. Avoid high heels and toss out any shoes that are overly worn.

Choose comfortable clothing.

Tight clothes, shoes and accessories (neck ties, belts, hair ties, etc.) can make your muscles feel tense rather than relaxed.

Set up a supportive sleep environment.

Is your bed comfortable? What about your pillow? Opting for higher-quality purchases in this area is an investment that pays off. Pillows and beds usually last 10 years, so that $2,000 price tag breaks down to $200/year and just $0.55 a day. Many of us spend more than that on daily coffee.

Use technology at eye level.

Put your computer monitor up on blocks so that you don’t have to bend your neck forward to look at it. You can also adjust the height of your chair to help accommodate this position. Hold your smartphone up in front of you at eye level (instead of holding it down low and bending your neck forward) and try to keep your shoulders relaxed.

While this overview just scratches the surface of what’s behind neck and back pain, these habits are relatively easy to implement and, over time, can go a long way toward helping to alleviate that pain in your neck.