Some causes of neck pain are beyond our control, such as injuries suffered in car accidents or while playing sports. But most neck pain comes from preventable causes such as poor posture, stress and anxiety, and sitting in prolonged positions with the neck bent forwards for too long. As a result, many people tend to have imbalances in their neck muscles, and that causes the deeper muscles that attach one vertebra to another to become weak and overstretched, which over time negatively affects spinal alignment.
The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to help prevent chronic neck pain. Here are some dos and don’ts:
- DO maintain good posture. Keep your neck in a neutral position, which means your head balances directly over your spine and is not leaning forward to one side.
- DO Perform regular strengthening and stretching neck exercises daily. We would be happy to provide you with some beneficial ones.
- DO Keep your shoulders down and back in a relaxed position and make sure to frequently check in with yourself. Some people find it helpful to set an alarm every 45 minutes to “fix your posture.” This works well if you have a desk or sedentary job.
- DO set up your workstation so your computer screen is at eye level and your feet are supported on the floor.
- DO keep stress levels low. Stress can increase the perception of pain, and it tends to promote poor positioning and tension in muscles such as the upper trapezius muscles, which attach to the base of the head and the shoulders. When these are tight they pull the head forward. Consider deep breathing or progressive relaxation exercises.
- DO Choose a pillow that supports and maintains your neck’s natural curve. A pillow that is too soft doesn’t give your neck the support it needs, while a pillow that’s too hard can elevate your neck too much. Either can result in pain upon waking up in the morning. We would be happy to talk to you about your sleeping position.
- DON’T “crack” your neck in an attempt to get relief. Instead, gently stretch your neck from side to side (slowly look left and hold for 10 seconds, then slowly look right and hold for 10 seconds) or up and down (slowly bend neck back and hold for 10 seconds, then slowly put your chin close to your chest and hold for 10 seconds).
- DON’T hold your head in a bent position for more than 10 minutes, whether you’re reading, watching TV, or looking at a smartphone or computer. Change your position to keep your eyes looking straight ahead. Prop your arms up on pillows or the arms of the chair if you are reading.
- DON’T talk on the phone while leaning your head to one side or the other. This puts an unnecessary strain on your neck muscles.
- DON’T Burden your back and neck with a backpack, bag or briefcase that is too heavy. Lighten your load.
Remember, for every 10 degrees forward the head is from a neutral position, the weight of the head on the neck increases about 10 pounds. This can place a great deal of strain on the muscles, ligaments, joints, and intervertebral discs in the neck. Getting your spine checked and adjusted as needed is an effective way of improving function and eliminating neck pain.