When I assess a patient for neck pain I don’t just look at the place where the pain is. I check the whole body because problems elsewhere can affect the cervical spine. (The cervical spine is the anatomical name for the neck.) If you have a postural or a movement problem elsewhere, the cervical spine may be compensating for it, resulting in neck pain. The shoulders often play a large part but even a difference in leg length could be a contributing factor. These issues may prevent complete recovery unless addressed, which is why I always test for them.
The other things I look for are behavioural causes. If you are guilty of any of the following, it is likely contributing to your neck pain.
1. Incorrect pillow height. If your neck spends the whole night resting in an awkward position, it’s going to take its toll. The easiest way to find your ideal pillow height is by using towels, click here to find out how.
2. Do you cradle your phone between your shoulder and your head? Your neck is rigidly bent over, the rest of your body is mobile and busy, plus you’re distracted. It’s a recipe for neck strain. Put callers on loudspeaker instead, or get some ear phones.
3. Where is your TV? It should be straight ahead of you. If it’s off at an angle and you sit watching it for hours, an imbalance will build up in your neck.
4. Tensing your shoulders and neck when driving results eventually in neck pain. Next time you’re sitting in traffic, take a moment to notice your position. There two things which might be causing you to tense up-
- Emotional stress.
- Postural stress. Many car seats are badly shaped, causing your spine to slump into a C shape with your head jutting forward. This puts pressure on your neck. Many people find that using a seat wedge discourages this. To find out more about healthy sitting positions, click here.
5. Do you swim without goggles? I see a lot of people swimming the breast stroke with their head sticking out of the water. It’s important to exercise but please don’t swim this way, it jams together the joints at the back of your neck. If you haven’t got the knack of breathing in time, this video might help.
6. A lot of women get neck pain thanks to their handbags. School children can suffer from this too, if they forget to use both straps of their rucksack. Shoulder bags are bad news because they pull down one side of your body, causing the neck muscles to exert themselves unevenly. Invest in a rucksack! Failing that, make your handbag as light as possible and keep alternating shoulders.
7. How high is your monitor? The top of the computer screen should be 3 inches above your eye level. Prop it up on books or buy a monitor stand. Do you keep having to look down at documents as you type? A document holder might help, alternatively a recipe book holder can be used.
8. Text neck is real, I see it all the time. Staring down at your knitting or at a book has the same effect. For every inch your head moves forward, as far as the muscles in your neck are concerned it gains 10lb in weight. Use your arms! Lift your phone or book to eye level, or prop it up on cushions. If you read or text in bed, lie on your front instead of staring down at your lap. (Although doing that for long periods brings its own problems. The key is to mix it up, and remain aware of your body’s position.)
Chiropractors can treat neck pain very effectively, but the techniques we use aren’t the full story. If you book in to see me, I’ll use chiropractic techniques to help your spine to move into better alignment, and to reduce the tension on your tissues. I’ll set you exercises, and you’ll find that as your neck begins to move more freely, your pain diminishes. But let me give you the inside word. Those patients who heal more quickly, and go on to remain pain free, tend to be the ones who have realised why they developed neck pain in the first place and have modified their behaviours.
Why don’t you modify yours, and see what happens?
If you found this article useful, you might also like this article, entitled 8 Ways to Avoid Back Pain.