Everyone’s had neck pain, and it’s no wonder. A typical adult head weighs as much as a bowling ball – about 11 pounds! Being humans, we usually ignore the amazingly flexible cervical vertebrae, muscles, ligaments and tendons that allow us to hold our heads high – until it hurts.
You can avoid most neck pain, but poor habits can lead to chronic pain and even long-term damage.
So what are you doing that causes your neck pain, and how can you stop it?
The biggest culprit. Watching or working at screens and texting on your phone are facts of life, but if you don’t focus on posture while you do these everyday things, you are asking for it.
Chronically tilting your head forward in front of your shoulders can lead to shoulders pain as well as neck pain, unattractive rounded shoulders, and can even contribute to degenerative diseases such as arthritis.
“Tennis Match Neck” is an example of how you can overstretch and even strain neck tissue with repetitive motion, called repetitive strain injury. Swimming, dancing, or playing video games are others. Ouch!
Many people get morning neck pain by neglecting the importance of your head’s position relative to your spine during the long night hours. It’s easy to stress the neck when your bowling ball of a head is out of position for so long!
Other types of unusual positions include looking up for long periods or “craning” your neck to view an event over several hours.
Good for you! You are out there playing pickup basketball or flag football or tennis or golf. You will be swiveling your head quickly and many more times per minute than you usually do, and neck injury, often in the form of headaches or stiffness, is all too common.
What You can Do
Improve your posture
If you don’t want to have to visit an upper cervical chiropractor, Mom’s advice is still best: sit up straight!
At your desk, adjust your equipment so that when you look straight ahead, your eyes are on the top third of the computer screen, your forearms are parallel to the floor while you type, and as you sit, your feet are flat on the floor and your thighs are parallel to it.
Also, make sure that your tailbone and lower back are tucked as close to the back of your chair as possible, this will make it hard to slouch so you don’t have to constantly think about sitting straight.
Take walking breaks frequently, at least a few minutes an hour. Do chair stretches for your upper back and neck. Don’t leave at the end of the day without a thorough neck/shoulder stretch, especially if you have a long commute ahead.
When texting, be sure your phone is at eye level part of the time. The best way to do this is to lie flat on your back. The next best way is to bring your phone up to eye level instead of bringing your eyes down to phone level.
For repetitive motion:
Take a break. If you get headaches from throwing your head back and forth while swimming, cut back on swimming and substitute another aerobic exercise during those off days. Change to different dance or (brace yourself!) don’t play video games as much. To soothe pain, rest, alternating hot and cold water during your shower, and eat some fresh pineapple (soothes inflammation).
For sports injuries:
It’s not practical to wear neck protection playing most sports, but it is important to be aware of your neck while chipping out of the bunker or driving the lane.
Physical contact or frequent neck movement is probably unavoidable, so protect your neck with strengthening exercises before and during the activity, lessening your chance of motion-related injury.
Since every individual is different, talk to your chiropractor about the right exercises to strengthen your neck.
For unusual positions:
Sleeping on your back or side is the best for avoiding neck pain. On your back, use a small, rounded pillow to support the curve of your neck, and a flatter pillow for your head. Feather or memory foam comfortably conforms to your shape.
If you sleep on your side, use a pillow that is a little higher under your neck than under your head. If you can, plant the small of your back against a wall, sleeping partner, or whatever is handy.
As a Fullerton chiropractor, I can tell you that sleeping on your stomach is killer on your neck and there is no good way to remedy it! You may need to change your sleeping position if you are having morning neck pain.
Your brain has some awareness of your body while you sleep and moves you around overnight, so starting off well-supported and comfortable improves your chances of staying comfortable through the night.
Stay physically and mentally fit! Having a firm core, toned back muscles, a strong, flexible neck and a positive, mindful outlook make it much easier to adopt practices that lead to improvement in neck pain.
Stay mindful and fit, and life won’t be a pain in the neck!