Neck pain is a huge problem in today’s culture and it’s only getting worse for most people. Every day, you can just take a look around and you will see co-workers, friends and family all grabbing their neck, trying to “pop” their neck and/or complaining of headaches and tension.
What is leading to all of this?
Well, there are a number of things that can come into play. First, technology for all of the good things it offers us, is, in my opinion, the most common cause of chronic neck problems. Think about it for a second, no matter how well you set up your work station ergonomics, I can almost guarantee that by the end of the day(assuming you work on a computer) that your neck and shoulders are tense and that you are leaning forward and squinting toward the screen. It happens to me even as I write these articles. Ergonomics is great and having proper set up helps, but as time wears on those things tend to give way and poor posture and muscle strain starts to set in.
Another area that technology affects our posture is cell phone or tablet usage. According to research most people do anything online(outside of work) on their cell phones and/or tablets. Stop right now and take a look around you and notice everyone’s neck posture. What does that look like? Now think about that for 3-4 hours daily on top of any work related tension. It’s easy to see how this leads to problems when you pay attention to it.
A second thing that I see many people develop neck pain from is the way they sleep. So many of us use a pillow that is not only not beneficial but it could be causing problems directly leading to neck pain. Take for example a patient of mine that told me that she “likes to sleep with a lot of pillows”. It turns out that she propped her head up on 2-3 pillows to sleep at night. On the other extreme, I’ve had a couple that didn’t use a pillow at all and lots of patients that use a pillow, but one that is flat and barely supports their head.
Third, and in my opinion, the most important piece of the puzzle relating to neck pain is the stress that so many of us carry around on a daily basis. It’s no secret that everyone is stressed out these days. All you have to do is get on Facebook or Twitter for a couple of minutes and you can see where people are arguing over all sorts of things. Now, I realize that there are those people out there that just want to fight all the time, but I would dare say that many of these people that engage in these online battles really only jump into it because they are already stressed out and someone just happened to mention something that struck a nerve, so they start an all out war on their keyboard. Stress keeps the muscles tense, overworks the nerves and depletes the body of key nutrients. This all contributes to chronic neck pain among other problems.
So, how can we combat these issues?
1. Stress Less: I realize that sounds so much easier than it is in real life. I mean worrying constantly fixes so many problems, right?(HAHA) Trust me I get. We all have things we have to deal with and sometimes that can get pretty intense. I’m not saying that getting rid of all stress is necessary. In fact, some stress is actually good for you. The key to this lies in how you handle it. There has to be some outlet for the tension that gets built up. Here are few ideas to let it go: meditation, exercise, reading a book, watching something funny, talking with friends and family, etc.
2. Improve Your Posture: In today’s world, we actually have to think about this stuff. It’s not just enough to think about your mom’s voice telling you to sit up straight anymore. You have to take into account how you are sitting for work and the habits you are building outside of work when using technology. Although like I stated ergonomics isn’t the glorious fix-all that it’s been made out to be, it is useful and does help. But, in addition to that you have to help yourself out too. When possible take breaks and get up to move around at least once an hour. Do some simple neck stretching and strengthening exercises daily. And, I’m going to commit technological heresy here, get off of your phone and/or tablet more often. I’m not saying don’t ever be on them, but most of us could benefit in so many ways by looking at the world around us instead of the little world on our phones and tablets. If you spend 3 hours a day on these things, try cutting 30 minutes to an hour off of that time and see how much better you feel.
3. Sleep Better: I would have thought this would go without saying because to me, I’ve always thought that having a pillow that keeps my head supported was important. But, it turns out that many people just never think about it. What you want to look for in a pillow is one that will support your head in a neutral position. You don’t want your head sticking up too much or falling back too much. This applies whether you are sleeping on your back or side(stomach sleeping is a whole different animal). Also, many people find it beneficial to sleep on a pillow that has a cervical support added in as well. If this type of pillow will benefit you, you will know it after just a few nights sleeping on one.
Neck pain is, well, a pain in the neck. But, it doesn’t have to be something that you have to suffer with the rest of your life. And, if you are unfortunate enough to have headaches associated with neck problems, those aren’t “normal” and you don’t have to live with them either. Try some of the suggestions above and seek Chiropractic to help as well if necessary.