Let’s take a closer look
2 out of 3 of us will have neck pain at some time in our lives.
Most neck pain is caused by sprains and strains, and reassuringly, will get better on its own within a few weeks.
If you have been told you have arthritis in your neck, this does not mean that your neck is crumbling. Arthritis is a normal part of getting older, in the same way your hair goes grey and your skin can wrinkle; bones and joints age and this is normal arthritis/wear and tear.
We all spend time looking at our phones, laptops or other devices and this is one of the most common causes of neck strain, particularly if you do this for long periods. The average weight of your head is 5-6kg; when you hold your head in a sustained forward position, it can double the weight of your head on your neck placing a huge strain on the muscles and soft tissues in your neck.
Lots of people hold tension through their neck muscles when they are stressed or anxious. Consider whether this is a contributing factor for you.
Sometimes, other everyday habits can unknowingly contribute to your neck pain persisting. This might relate to watching TV at an angle, or your workstation not being set up correctly for you, or reading in bed hunched over a book/kindle, and even regularly sleeping on your tummy.
Clenching your jaw during the day, or grinding your teeth at night can also contribute to your neck feeling sore.
More pain does not necessarily mean more damage. Just as with low back pain or any other joint pain, the amount of pain you feel can vary according to a number of factors including: your previous pain experiences, your mood, your fears, fitness, stress levels and how you cope with pain; in other words, your pain experience is unique and linked with lots of different factors.
In the majority of people with neck pain, x-rays and scans are not needed. Even adults with no neck pain will have evidence of normal ‘wear and tear’ or age-related changes on their scans.
Managing your neck pain
- If you have a minor neck injury, treat it like you would a sprained ankle; avoid aggravating activities, take paracetamol or ibuprofen and keep your neck moving.
- Prolonged rest is not helpful and is likely to delay your recovery.
- If your job is largely sedentary and desk based, try and get away from your desk at least once every hour. Maybe even consider using a standing desk.
- Think about how you can position yourself to reduce the strain on your neck and change your position regularly.
- If your work place offers a workstation assessment, do ensure you have one to optimise your position at work.
- In the same way, if you drive long distances, take regular breaks, move and stretch to ease any resulting stiffness in your neck.
- When sleeping, ensure your neck is comfortably supported; you don’t necessarily need a special neck pillow, just a pillow that can be moulded to support your neck so your head is the same height as the rest of your body. Try and avoid sleeping on your front.
- Learning to relax can help you manage your neck pain., eg mindfulness, listening to music, spending time with friends and most importantly taking time out for yourself.
- If you grind your teeth at night or find yourself clenching your jaw during the day, a visit to your dentist would be helpful to get fitted with a mouth guard.
- A great tip for avoiding getting a stiff neck is to pause and stretch: slowly roll your shoulders backwards, then forwards in a circle x5, slowly look over your left shoulder, then your right shoulder x5,slowly drop your left ear to your left shoulder, and then right ear to your right shoulder x5 .
- If you develop other symptoms like pins and needles in your arms or legs, pain spreading in to both arms, and/or weakness in your hands, arms or legs please make an appointment with your GP.
If your neck pain or stiffness does not settle after a few weeks and you are concerned, there is help available. Please call and we can offer further advice on how to manage your symptoms and get you back doing the activities you love.