Preventing Chronic Neck Pain

Preventing Chronic Neck Pain Using Simple Tips You Can Do Right Now

chronic neck painSpinal pain is a major issue and, for the most part, the low back is the focus for relief and therapy. However, upper part of the spine, the neck, is just as prone to pain. The longer the pain, the worse the outcome, so it is important to find ways of preventing chronic neck pain.

With the increasing use of cellphones and computers, neck pain is receiving more attention as we spend more time with the head and neck bent down. Unfortunately, simple physics tells us that every inch the head is bent forward from a straight position, the effective weight the neck must support increases by 10 pounds. This is not good news for the discs, joints, ligaments and muscles of the neck which, even with the head straight, must support the head that weighs about 10 pounds.

Causes Of Neck Pain

Many of the causes of neck pain can not be controlled, like whiplash injuries from car accidents or sports. There are occupations that necessitate looking down or up for much of the time. Many chronic neck pain conditions can cause long term problems, like cervical spondylosis; a degenerative condition that can cause stenosis or narrowing of an area that nerves or the spinal cord goes through, and disc problems, which can also pinch nerves causing inflammation, as well as narrow the space for the spinal cord.

However, much of neck pain symptoms we experience are related to causes that are preventable, like anxiety, stress, poor posture, and remaining in one position with the head bent forward for extended periods. This can cause irritation of muscles as they become imbalanced, resulting in neck stiffness from muscles that contract too long or become overstretched.

When Neck Pain Is Serious

There are some signs that you should seek immediate medical attention for neck pain. If there is a sudden onset of neck stiffness that comes on when there is a headache and fever, this may indicate meningitis, a serious infection. If you have neck pain along with breathing problems, nausea, vomiting and pain in the arm and jaw, this could be a serious sign of a heart attack.

Tips To Help In Preventing Chronic Neck Pain

1) Improve your posture. Make sure the head remains in balance directly over the shoulders and the spine is straight instead of leaning forward. Retracting the head over the shoulders at regular intervals is a good, simple exercise to make sure you are maintaining good posture.

2) Keep your shoulders relaxed and in a down and back position. Constant elevated shoulders causes strain of the trapezius muscles that can result in a chronic condition called trapezius myalgia. This is especially problematic for women who work at sedentary or desk jobs. It may help to use an alarm set at regular intervals to remind you to adjust your posture.

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3) If you work sitting at a desk or computer, make some simple ergonomic adjustments to have the monitor at the level of your eyes, while your feet can be flat on the floor or a small footstool.

4) Try to keep stress levels down. Stress is often held in the trapezius muscle and can lead to pain in the neck and shoulders. Tightening of muscles in stressful conditions can make the head lean forward. Simple breathing exercises can help reduce the effects of stress, along with regular practice of meditation, tai chi or yoga.

5) Although some recommend rolling the neck around to loosen it up, do not do this! Rolling the neck in all directions can cause grinding of the joints and cartilage, which can be harmful, especially if there is already some level of joint irritation from arthritis. Instead, do gentle neck stretches by turning your head left and holding for a count of 10, then to the right and repeat. This can also be done looking up and down in a similar manner. The main point is to go slowly and never to the point of pain.

6) Do not keep your head bent forward longer than 10 minutes. Activities such as watching Television, reading, using a laptop or smartphone can place the head in a forward bent position for long periods. Set things up so your eyes are looking forward in a straight manner. This can mean raising the TV or lowering your seat, creative use of pillows or a wedge pillow for reading in bed. Try to change positions often and get up for a few minutes to walk around or stretch a bit.

7) Never use the phone in between your neck and shoulders. To keep your hands free, use the speakerphone or another device that is hands free. Holding the phone between your neck and shoulder strains muscles and compresses joints.

8) If you are experiencing waking pain or pain when you wake up in the morning, it is likely that you need a new pillow. Another indication is placing your arm under the pillow – this means you need more support. Since so much time is spent in a sleeping posture, it is important to have proper pillow support. Consider incorporating a functional pillow for the best neutral posture while back and side sleeping.

9) If your neck pain lasts for over 2 weeks, get help form a professional as a measure in preventing chronic neck pain. A medical or chiropractic doctor can do a good examination and take x-rays of your neck. A medical doctor can refer you for physical therapy and a chiropractor can do adjustments that can help with neck problems. Physical therapists and chiropractors can help instruct you in doing neck exercises.

Preventing Chronic Neck Pain: Quick Relief

quick reliefIf you are having neck pain, a certain exercise that is simple to do is the nodding exercise. This may have immediate benefits by reducing neck pain and related headaches. It can help to obtain relief from tension and promote the muscles that support good posture.

Simply hold the head straight, making sure your ears are over your shoulders and nod, like motioning yes. This will cause a “double chin” effect, but do this without bending your head forward; the motion is in and up. Hold for a count of 10 and repeat a few times. This can be done sitting and throughout the day. This has the benefits of reducing pain and helping posture by improving function of the deep cervical muscles.

  • A 2019 study in the Journal of Back & Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation found fear of motion (kinesiophobia) increases neck pain and decreases quality of life. It plays an important role in promoting neck pain to become a chronic condition. Thus, it is important to get motion as soon as possible, and stretching exercises are a great way to avoid chronic neck pain.

  • A 2020 study in Pain Medicine indicates kinesiophobia is associated with disuse and a detrimental factor in life space (the area through which a person moves over a specified time period) for the elderly. It is also associated with cognitive decline. A restricted life space can lead to a reduction in diversity of experiences and limit daily environmental demands.
  • A 2021 study in Geriatrics & Gerontology International found higher body mass index, less physical activity and more depressive symptoms are predictors of developing musculoskeletal pain, whereas slow gait speed and depressive symptoms are predictors of it’s persistence among older people. This highlights the importance of weight control, strategies to improve mental wellbeing and an active lifestyle for pain management among older people.

Author Bio

Stephen Ornstein, D.C. has treated thousands of neck, shoulder and back conditions since graduating Sherman Chiropractic College in 1987 and during his involvement in Martial Arts. He holds certifications as a Peer Review Consultant from New York Chiropractic College, Physiological Therapeutics from National Chiropractic College, Modic Antibiotic Spinal Therapy from Dr. Hanne Albert, PT., MPH., Ph.D., Myofascial Release Techniques from Logan Chiropractic College, and learned Active Release Technique from the founder, P. Michael Leahy, DC, ART, CCSP.