Pain in the Neck!
If you’ve ever experienced severe neck pain, you know exactly why this term came into popular use. If you’ve only experienced generalized pain, count yourself lucky. Once the body senses misalignment in neck vertebrae, it tells muscles in the area to tighten up. The body’s intent is to protect the area, however the net result is often increased pain and a stiff neck. Vertebral misalignment is very common and can happen for several reasons, with posture being at the top of the hit list. Posture is not just a matter of reminding yourself to sit up straight, it also includes the design of your workstation and chairs that you commonly use. It is very common for most of us to let our heads drift forward in the course of our day. Gravity never sleeps, and the weight of an average head is between 4.5 and 5 kg (10 – 11 lbs.). That is no different that having a bowling ball balanced on top of your neck. If you think of your head position in this manner, it will help to remind you to keep your head from drifting forward. When sitting, having proper lumbar support is key to keeping your head and neck aligned. As the lumbar curve flattens from inadequate seating, your head moves forward. This puts strain on the muscles at the back of your neck, increasing the likelihood of developing neck pain. Most of us use computers to some degree these days, so ergonomic adjustment of your workstation is very important. A seat that is too low, or a monitor that is too high will put strain on the neck. (Top of the screen should not be above the level of your eyes.) Other neck pain strategies include:
- Pillowing – This is a very important area to examine. If sleeping on your back, you primarily need gentle support under your neck (cervical) curve. If you sleep on your side, you need more pillowing. Unfortunately because of the many shapes and sizes of people, there is no one good pillow to recommend. My personal choice is a feather pillow because I can mould it into any shape that I need. (I toss and turn a lot).
- Chin tucks (figure 4-3) should be done several times per day to help remind the brain to keep the head back (balanced over the spine). For other helpful stretches for your neck go to http://www.spinecenteronline.com/ex_nck.html
- Hydrotherapy is also quite useful in managing neck pain. This can involve use of hot packs or heat liniments.
- Acupressure is another way of treating neck pain. There are several books available on this topic at your local bookstore.
- Reading Glasses – Bifocals are hard on the neck. Progressive lenses are even worse because they require you to angle your head back to view the screen. If you wear glasses to read, a dedicated set of computer glasses is highly recommended. Measure the distance from the screen to your eyes and have your optometrist give you a reading glass prescription for this distance.
- Massage and Chiropractic treat neck pain very effectively. In addition to manual treatment, your therapist can give you specific exercises and advice to prevent future recurrence of neck pain.
- Traction Halter – If your pain is severe, your therapist might recommend use of a traction halter. This is a device that fits around your head to traction your neck. This takes pressure of the neck vertebrae and disks and helps reduce muscle spasms.
- Pharmaceutical Options – While topical pain patches and muscle relaxants are not a solution, they can help at times when pain gets in the way of your daily activities. Consult your pharmacist first, before using this option.
One excellent book on neck pain is Treat Your Own Neckby physiotherapist Robin McKenzie ISBN: 0473002094. This inexpensive book is a quick read, offering seven key exercises to get you out of pain and lots of practical advice on preventing neck pain.
If you experience neck pain then call us. Neck pain is not something that you need to live with. With proper treatment it can be minimized and often eliminated.