Neck pain is all too familiar for some of us. It has a nasty habit of spreading, starting in one spot then traveling up into the base of the skull or down and across the shoulders. Sometimes I wake up in the morning after I’ve slept wrong and I can feel a small pinpoint pain in the middle of my neck. By lunch I’ve got a horrible headache and tension racing across my shoulders. Does this sound familiar? It’s not pleasant is it?
For many neck pain can get in the way of their job, can disrupt their personal life, and even send them fleeing to a dark room if the pain results in a headache. So let’s uncover the truth behind neck pain and what we can do about it.
When your body is injured you release “pain” chemicals. Certain types of nerves are specifically designed to sense these chemicals, and when they do, they send the message to your brain and you feel pain. So your sensation of pain is the release of these chemicals somewhere in your body. In this case, they are released in your neck. Many different tissues like muscles and joints can release these pain chemicals.
Most neck pain is caused by repetitive micro-trauma. Something you do every day that doesn’t feel painful, but by doing it every day over time you now have a major pain in the neck. Most of the time is has to do with our jobs. If you stare at a computer screen all day you know exactly what I mean. By the end of the day the neck muscles ache and the joints are stiff. If you work in manufacturing your neck is always put in a stressed position.
What do these people have in common: a receptionist always leaning to the right because that’s the side the office phone is on, the computer technician leaning forward toward to screen, a mechanic bent over a car engine, or a surgeon leaning over his/her patient? Of course, all these individuals are leaning forward or side-to-side. All these people will develop neck pain. Your body wants to be in a straight, neutral position. Anything outside of this causes repetitive trauma.
So if you have a job that allows you to have perfect posture, I applaud you for finding the impossible! If you fall into the much larger second category of imperfect posture, listen up because this will save you years of discomfort and pain!
Here are two stretches to be done once an hour. It only take 1-2 minutes each time, so no excuses if you think you don’t have the time.
- Neck Extension: Most of the time, your head and neck is in a flexed forward position, bringing your chin closer to your chest. To combat this, do the opposite. Lean your head backward for 15-30 seconds. Do this 3-5 times.
- Side Stretches: Using one hand, reach down and grab the underside of your chair. Using your other hand, reach up and place it on top of your head. Using this hand, gently pull your head to the side, away from the arm wrapped under the chair as an anchor. When you feel the stretch, hold for 15 seconds. Holding that position, rotate your head down so you’re looking at the ground to stretch the muscles in the back of your neck. Hold for 15 seconds. Then rotate your head up so you are looking at the ceiling. Hold again for 15 seconds. Now repeat for the other side of your neck.
Two simple stretches, but they will save you a world of hurt. Sometimes, when holding those stretches you may feel a sharp pinpoint pain in your neck. This is a sign it is time to visit your chiropractor, especially if you feel stiff as well.
If you already have constant neck pain, you sadly don’t have much choice. You can live with it, take medication, or seek out the most successful treatment for neck pain: chiropractic care1.
1 Bronfort G, et. al. Spinal Manipulation, Medication, or Home Exercises with Advice for Acute and Subacute Neck Pain. Ann. Intern. Med. 2012, 156: 1-10.