Good posture, exercises help – source Mayo Clinic
The human head typically weighs between 6 and 10 pounds, which is quite a lot of weight to keep balanced on the top of a body. The job of doing just that falls mainly to the muscles, spine bones and other tissues that make up the neck. Given this duty, it’s no wonder that at any given time, it’s estimated 10 percent of adults have neck pain.
Neck pain can be mild to severe and can have a wide variety of causes. Most cases involve a sharp or dull pain in the neck area, or neck stiffness. This may be an annoying discomfort — or it may interfere with your daily tasks — but it’s usually not related to a serious problem and will often go away with time and self-care.
Pain in the neck
Muscle tension and strain is one of the most common causes of neck pain. This can be triggered by overuse and typically occurs at the back of the neck and upper back. A primary cause is too many hours hunched over with tasks such as driving, computer work, handcrafts or a project at a workbench. Tension, poor posture and stress can cause muscle fatigue and strain, as can seemingly minor things such as reading in bed or gritting your teeth. Muscles of the neck can also tighten up in response to an underlying problem such as arthritic joints of the spine.
Additional common causes of neck pain may include:
Worn Joints — The neck is made up of seven vertebrae, which are connected by ligaments and joints called facet joints. Just like in any other joint, wear and tear over time can result in the development of osteoarthritis. Other types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, also can damage neck joints.
Disk degeneration — With age, the spongy disks that provide cushion between the vertebrae of your spine become stiff, provide less shock absorption and are less effective at evenly distributing pressure to joints. This can cause neck and upper back pain.
First step, stay active
Neck pain usually isn’t a sign of anything serious. Initially, a diagnostic evaluation may be performed to rule out a potentially serious problem. But beyond that, diagnostic steps to find the exact cause of common neck pain are typically fruitless.
Seek immediate care Neck pain related to a serious or life-threatening problem is uncommon. However, certain rare situations warrant seeking immediate medical care, including: Severe pain or pain related to a head or neck injury. Rear-end auto collisions often result in injuries, as can sports injuries or falls.
Pain that radiates to the shoulder or arm, leg weakness, or walking difficulty. Occasionally, the nerves exiting the spine can be compressed or irritated by a bulge from a ruptured (herniated) disk — or from a bony outgrowth from a worn joint.
Pain that worsens at night or occurs with fever or weight loss, which may indicate infection or another serious condition.
Neck pain that throbs, which may be related to a heart problem.
Neck pain before or with a headache, which may indicate a stroke.
That’s because neck function is very complicated, with many intricately moving parts. Doctors usually can’t tell what exactly is causing your pain based on an exam or by using imaging tests. Even if an X-ray reveals arthritis in a joint, for example, there’s no way to know if that’s the cause of pain or if the actual cause is something else.
During the first four to six weeks of common neck pain, a hands-off approach is usually best in terms of medical care. Most people will experience a complete recovery during this time. In addition to gentle stretching exercises, self-care steps that may help speed your recovery include:
Staying active — If your neck hurts, the natural inclination is to rest it. However, so long as a serious problem has been ruled out, staying active is one of the best ways to speed healing. Still, be sure to pace yourself, and if you feel you need it, take 10- to 15-minute breaks throughout the day to rest your neck.
Improving posture — Keeping your head upright in a neutral position is key to good posture. You can do this simply by practicing sitting or standing tall with relaxed shoulder muscles. Also, avoid positions that cause your head to lean to one side or tilt downward for extended periods of time. This may include avoiding talking on the phone with the receiver tucked between your head and shoulder, working too long at a desk or computer, or sleeping on your stomach.
Adjust your posture when at the computer, in the workshop or doing handcrafts so that you’re not hunched over or tilting your head back for a better view. (See “Computer ergonomics,” in this issue.) In addition, pay attention to tension in your neck muscles and visualize keeping them relaxed. If you can’t avoid leaning or hunching, take frequent breaks to relax your neck or use your neck in another way.
Relaxation — Tense muscles may benefit from stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation. A heating pad on tense neck muscles or a warm bath or shower also may facilitate relaxation, as may a gentle massage.
Nonprescription pain medication and ice packs — Short-term use of a pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may offer pain relief to help you feel better and stay active or gently exercise neck muscles. In the first few days after a strain, using an ice pack wrapped in a towel for up to 20 minutes several times a day may help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
Pain that nags
If neck pain doesn’t respond to self-care within four to six weeks, additional treatment options may include:
Physical therapy — Targeted stretching and strengthening exercises and manual therapy techniques can help restore muscle function and endurance, improve posture, and reduce muscle tightness. Once learned, you can usually perform exercise routines at home.
Improving fitness and function with physical therapy is the only known way to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of neck pain recurrences. In short, fitness often determines how much pain you’ll have in the future.
Prescription medications — Pain medications, muscle relaxants or certain antidepressants may help relieve pain and help you get better sleep.
Injections and needling — Trigger point injections into an area of muscle tightness can be helpful. These can be done with a needle only, with an injection of an anesthetic, or with an injection of an anesthetic and an inflammation-suppressing corticosteroid. In cases of arthritis, an injection of an anesthetic or corticosteroid drug near a facet joint may help relieve pain.
Chiropractic manipulation — It’s not known how chiropractic adjustment works, but it appears to lead to swift pain relief in some people with neck pain. Manipulation that doesn’t involve quick, forceful motions of the neck is preferred. In very rare instances, forceful manipulation can cause damage to blood vessels that deliver blood to the brain. Although rare, such damage to the blood vessels can lead to stroke.
Other options — After a neck injury, short-term neck immobilization of no more than one to two weeks with a soft neck collar may help relieve pain by taking pressure off your neck and allowing soft tissues to heal. A number of other therapies with limited evidence of effectiveness may provide some temporary pain relief, including acupuncture, Pilates and massage.
Gentle stretching for self-care
Gentle stretches can help restore or sustain neck range of motion and stretch tense muscles. With a muscle strain, it’s usually helpful to wait until pain subsides before beginning these. With arthritis or disk problems, there’s a balance between maintaining range of motion and aggravating the problem.
Start slowly and gently with stretching exercises. Generally, you’ll want to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. Make sure your physical therapist or an appropriate care provider instructs you in the proper stretching exercises and techniques.
Addressing chronic pain
When neck pain lasts longer than a couple of months despite appropriate treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy may be added. This may be particularly helpful when psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, and poor life or job satisfaction are present. Cognitive behavioral therapy may help change how you think and behave toward life’s stresses and in particular the stress of chronic neck pain. It’s usually coupled with continued core strengthening exercises such as Pilates and physical therapy.
At Fit N Pilates located in North Dallas in Plano. We are committed to teaching the authentic approach to Pilates that will help control pain and minor injures.