When life is a pain in the neck: How to identify and fix neck pain

Jun 23, 2019
Neck pain can become more common and bothersome as we age. Source: Getty

The neck is one of the most important parts of our body – intricate and strong, yet fragile, there are an amazing 21 joints in our neck along with complex muscles and ligaments. It’s a miracle of engineering, but plenty can go wrong.

Neck pain is caused by many things including an inappropriate pillow or mattress, osteoarthritis, sports injury, strain from repetitive work, car accidents, and more. At Elite Akademy we’re seeing more neck pain from posture-related issues.

Neck pain may be difficult to diagnose because tightness in the neck joints and discs can cause injury further down the chain – this means there is potential for neck pain to present as other injuries such as back pain or shoulder pain. A thorough assessment, which checks the muscles, nerves and ligaments, is necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

To avoid neck pain, pay attention to the following:

Posture

The neck is one of the most common areas where poor posture can impact your body.

We’re seeing more problems which stem from ‘seated posture’, which is particularly bad for neck pain. We tend to crane our neck forward when using laptops, smartphones and other devices, which puts us out of alignment and results in stiffness and pain.

Anybody can improve their posture by making small changes. The key is to establish some cues, which remind you to stand or sit ‘tall’. For example: whenever you check your phone, sit tall (studies have found people check their phone 60-80 times per day); similar with checking email. Before you open up the emails ‘grow tall’ in the seat; team up with someone, a partner who also wants to work on their posture. Together, you can support and remind each other to stand or sit tall.

On the all-important seated posture, remember:

  • Proper alignment in spine – sitting upright, with proper support through the chair
  • Proper ergonomics with the position of computer screen. Some tips include:
    • Increase the height of the screen. People often have the incorrect height and look down. This means having screens at eye level and, if sitting, having somewhere for your arms to rest.
    • Sit closer to the desk and be closer to the computer. This stops you reaching forward for the keyboard, which prevents slouching at the shoulders and upper spine.
    • Make sure the computer is directly in front of you.
  • Position of feet when seated – it’s always best if your feet are on the ground in front of you. It may seem a small point, but even while seated your feet provide some support for the rest of your body.

Inactivity

Spending too much time sitting down, and too little time being active, is a recipe for neck pain.

We are 70 per cent water and need regular movement to naturally lubricate our joints, preventing stiffness and pain. Without activity your joints stiffen, your muscles contract and you lose strength in core muscle groups. Regular exercise can keep you strong

While inactivity is particularly relevant for over-60s, I have treated people of all ages, including people in their 20s, suffering from preventable neck pain and headaches due to inactivity and spending too much time on the computer.

The key is to keep moving – even if you are suffering from pain, being able to move as regularly as possible, within tolerable pain levels, is vital. Ideally, you stay healthy with a routine blending low, medium and high intensity exercise.

Osteoarthritis

This can be hugely challenging, and it’s recommended anyone suffering from osteoarthritis see an expert for diagnosis and treatment.

But beware certain traps like relying too much on painkilling drugs, which only provide temporary relief. Osteoarthritis is complex, but there is potential for improvement by staying active, exercising and moving often.

Finally, here are some top exercises and stretches for neck pain (only move within tolerable levels of pain. If the pain is too much, then see an expert):

  1. Trapezius stretch: Tilt your head to the side: when tilting to the right, gently put your right hand on the top of your head, and gently apply a little pressure, pushing your head to the right-hand side. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times before doing the other side.
  2. Neck rotation with (opposite) pressure: Turn the head as far as you can tolerate (do not push into pain) and then provide resistance with your hand to the direction you are going. Hold for 3 seconds. Release. Continue five times and your range will increase. This activates the muscles in the direction you want to turn.
  3. Fist under chin exercise: Make a fist and place under your chin, resting on the thumb and forefinger. Place your opposite hand behind your head and gently press forward, using some pressure. Hold for three to five seconds. And repeat five times. This helps to strengthen the neck and also open up the joints in the neck.
  4. Self-massage at the base of the skull: Loosen the muscles by gently placing your fingers at the base of the skull, either side of the neck. Apply a firm rotational self-massage for 30 seconds to one minute.

Do you suffer from neck pain? Have you tried any of the tips above to help relieve it?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

Info & tips to help you stay healthy and enjoy your 60's

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