What a Pain in the Neck!

How many times a day do you look down to check your phone?  How many times are you leaning closer to your computer at work to get a closer glance of the screen?  You are probably doing it multiple times, if not all the time, throughout the day.  Those little movements can add up to a big pain in the neck.  Neck pain can occur in any part of the neck – muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, or nerves.

Mature woman with neck painMuscle strain or tension is the most common cause of neck pain.  The problem is usually over-use, such as sitting at a computer for too long as mentioned above.  Sometimes you strain your neck muscles from sleeping in an awkward position or overdoing it during exercise.  There are other causes of neck pain that you may or may not have heard of:

Radiculopathy – A pinched nerve, often from a herniated, or slipped disc.  This causes pain down the arm that’s often described as an electrical feeling.

Myofascial Pain – Generally an aching pain in muscles that tends to be associated with poor posture.  Patients can become sore in different parts of the body like the neck and arms, and often patients report they have difficulty sleeping or feeling restored from sleep.

Spinal Stenosis – A narrowing of the nerve openings either around the spinal cord or nerve roots that can cause symptoms similar to a pinched nerve.  The pain is described either as an aching or an electrical feeling down the arms or legs.  It can cause weakness as well.

Tendon, Ligament and Soft Tissue Pain – Localized pain or tenderness when an area is stretched or its muscles are overused.

Spinal Instability – Increased motion between the vertebra, usually resulting from an injury in the neck ligaments and muscles.  The pain can cause tingling in the neck or arms.

Non-Spinal Causes of Neck Pain Pain imitating a neck injury, but from another cause.  Shoulder and elbow injuries and gall bladder disease are examples of problems that can refer pain to the neck area.

Repetitive Strain Injury – An injury that occurs from a chronically used part of the body, either in a normal or abnormal way.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you definitely want to talk to your doctor about physical therapy.  The use of physical therapy and exercise is integral to almost all forms of neck pain treatment.  Sometimes physical therapy and exercise are the first lines of treatment, other times it may help manage chronic pain, or provide rehabilitation after surgery.  Physical therapy and exercise are perhaps the most mainstream of all non-surgical treatments for neck pain.  And unlike other conservative treatments, physical therapy can also help prevent and or lessen future occurrences.

What can you do to keep neck pain away?

Take frequent breaks.  Don’t sit in one place for a long time.  Get up and move!  Instead of emailing someone, walk to his or her desk to relay the message.   Arrange items at your desk so they are less convenient to reach.

Maintain good posture.  Adjust the seat of your computer or desk chair so your hipsergonomics are slightly higher than your knees; your head and neck will naturally follow in the correct position.  Traveling in a car, airplane or train?–Place a small pillow or rolled towel between your neck and a headrest to keep the normal curve in your neck.

How are you sleeping?  Avoid sleeping with too many pillows or falling asleep on the couch with your head on the armrest.

On the phone a lot?  Use a speakerphone or headsets.  Do not cradle the phone in your neck.

Exercise.  Treat your body to a consistent regimen of stretching and strengthening to balance your muscle groups.  This protects your neck as well as helping your whole body.  Walking at any pace is excellent exercise for your neck.  The rotation of the spine provides a great natural workout for the neck muscles.



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