Taking Care of Your Neck

Have you ever had an ache in your neck after working for hours at your desk? Have you awakened one morning and couldn’t move your neck? You are not alone – neck pain affects nearly 10-20% of Americans each year.  In one study, almost 57% of office workers had neck pain during the course of a year. Despite these facts you can prevent neck pain – if you find yourself unlucky and with neck pain, we will review some simple tips on how you can treat neck pain.

Neck pain can be related to several major dysfunctions or diseases. Ninety percent of individuals with neck pain have what is called mechanical neck pain. Mechanical neck pain comes about when mechanical forces, such as sleeping positions, postures, or lifting, become too much for your body. Abnormal or awkward forces can strain muscles, tear ligaments, and irritate nerves. Furthermore, the pain can cause compensations in movements and changes in body functions. The positive news is that mechanical neck pain resolves with conservative care such as stretching, ice, exercise, and physical therapy.

Individuals that have neck pain that is not mechanical may have other medical issues that may be related to the neck pain. For instance, neck pain can often be a sign of fibromyalgia, a body-wide pain disorder. Neck pain that is associated with chest tightness/pain and shortness of breath may be a sign of a heart attack – this is emergent and warrants immediate medical attention. Here are some other key warning signs, when coupled with neck pain, which warrant medical attention:

-Headaches or dizziness
-Fall from 3 feet or greater
Numbness/tingling in the forearm, hand, fingers
-Persistent neck pain, even when at rest
-Pain with swallowing
-Pain that changes with different food choices/timing of meals

If you find yourself with mechanical neck pain, early conservative treatment will help you recover more quickly, and may help to prevent future relapses. In the early stage of recovery there are several things that can speed up your recovery and reduce your symptoms:

It is important to try to continue your normal activities of daily living within reason – neck braces that immobilize the spine actually may make your neck pain worse or prolong recovery.
Ice may help to diminish pain and inflammation. Apply a cold pack for 20 minutes with a thin wet paper towel between the pack and your skin.
Anti-inflammatories, such as Advil® or Aleve®, have been shown to be no more effective than physical therapy treatment – in fact, those taking the anti-inflammatories had greater risk of suffering from a bleed in their intestines than those receiving physical therapy with spinal manipulation. Consider consulting a physical therapist for manipulation of your middle (thoracic) spine, as it is safe and effective for treating mechanical neck pain, as shown by Dr. Josh Cleland.

Simple range of motion exercises of rotating your head side to side will help to lubricate your joints and promote remobilization. While stretching with neck pain seems intuitive and is found on copious online resources, stretching can often make a person’s neck pain worse. Physical therapy research has shown that range of motion exercises, such as rotations, are superior to holding stretches. Perform 10 rotations within moderate discomfort, twice daily.
Perform simple chin tucks while lying down. Carefully draw your chin down and in – hold these for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times in the morning and evening.

Posture and muscular endurance is vital in the intermediate to later stage of recovery. Here are some tips to finalizing recovery and preventing future flare-ups

Continue progressing your chin tuck to a sitting position providing resistance with your hand at the back of your neck
Monitor your neck posture: set a timer on your computer for every 20 minutes to check your posture
Open your chest and strengthen your middle and upper back muscles. Stretch your chest by placing your arms in a door frame and lunging forward with your legs. Hold this stretch for 30 second. Strengthen your upper back muscles with rowing motions with bands.
Avoid prolonged postures – move every 20 minutes. Consider a standup desk or an ergonomic assessment from an ergonomic specialist.

Research shows that those that are physically active will be less likely to have neck pain. Working at a desk can be challenging for your neck but these tips will change positively impact your work and prevent pain.

References:

Childs JD, Cleland JA, Elliott JM, Teyhen DS, Wainner RS, Whitmas JM, Sopky BJ, Godges JJ, Flynn TW. The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy 2008 Sep;38(9):A1-A34

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21665126

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