If you have a job that sees you sitting at a desk for hours on end or if you are perennially stressed, chronic neck pain can be a real issue. According to the McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, nearly half of all adults have an instance of neck pain each year.1 Women and those with desk jobs tend to be worst off, with far higher incidence of neck pain than the general population. For anyone living with chronic neck pain, treatment often means endless rounds of physiotherapy and lots of medication, including potentially addictive painkillers. Surprisingly, many of us turn to medication before making these simple lifestyle tweaks that could do away with the problem altogether!
Get Off That Screen (Or Phone)
Whether it is for work or play, our gadgets and devices keep us glued to them for hours on end. Staring at your screen with your neck in a fixed position for hours or awkwardly bent through the day can spell big trouble for your neck. If your job requires you to sit at a desk working on your computer, be sure to take breaks. If you can, try and get up and walk around to stretch your body and get that circulation going again.
Even if you don’t use the computer but have to take long work-related calls on your phone, you may find neck pain is a persistent problem. Holding your head tilted, often with the phone wedged in the crook of your neck can cause stiffness and pain. Invest in a good headset or just use the phone on speaker when you can. As one study of an office where employees heavily used video display units found, workstation layout played a critical role in neck pain. Something as simple as changing the inclination of that keyboard or the height of your chair could help.2
No Slouching! Fix Your Posture
Be aware of your posture while you are walking, standing, and sitting. Keeping an erect back and avoiding slouching take the pressure of your spine. If you drive, the position of your seat is critical. Ensure it is inclined to give you maximum support and check that you don’t have to hold your neck stiffly while you drive. If you have a long drive ahead, be sure to plan breaks to get out and stretch.3
Exercise plays a very important role in easing neck pain. The National Health Service UK recommends low-impact exercises that are easy to do, especially for anyone suffering from cervical spondylosis. They can help limit the pain and damage to your nerves. Swimming and walking, in particular, are easy for anyone to do. These can improve flexibility and keep your circulation in good shape.4 Endurance strength training has also been found to be effective in combating chronic neck pain, according to results from some studies.5
In addition, fit stretching and flexibility exercises into your routine. Learn some neck exercises you can do at your desk or while on the phone. These can help you retain the range of motion and elasticity of your neck joints. By working these joints and muscles you relieve the stiffness in the neck that is often the cause of the pain itself. Do these often through the day, especially if you have a desk job or anything that keeps you in one position for a long time. Neck stretches, neck turns, and neck tilts are easy but effective.6
Get Rid Of That Stress!
Stress is one of the leading causes of neck pain and will also be relieved with exercise. For anyone with an anxiety issue or any kind of stress, one of the first visible physical signs will be tension in the neck and shoulders. Try using relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga to ease the underlying stress so the tension dissipates, and with it the stiffness and pain.7
Change How You Sleep
You spend about a third of your day in bed sleeping. So how you sleep can be as important as what you do when you are awake. Sleeping on your side puts the least pressure on the neck and back. The worst sleeping position is on your stomach because it forces you to put your neck and head in an awkward and unnatural position and does not allow your spinal curvature to remain in its normal neutral position.
Pick the right pillow to offer optimal support. Propping one between your knees as you lie on your side can be helpful. The right material of pillow also matters. If you suffer from neck pain or have a stiff neck or sharp pain in the neck and spine, try switching to memory foam pillows. These pillows take the contour of your neck and head and help with better spinal alignment. Feather pillows also adapt to the shape of your neck but can collapse with prolonged use and will need to be changed often.
Change your pillow when it loses shape and firmness because it will no longer give your neck the support it should. Very high or very stiff pillows can also cause neck pain, so make sure this isn’t the cause of your aches and pains.8
|↑1, ↑3||Neck Pain, McKinley Health Center. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.|
|↑2||Korhonen, T., R. Ketola, R. Toivonen, R. Luukkonen, M. Häkkänen, and E. Viikari-Juntura. “Work related and individual predictors for incident neck pain among office employees working with video display units.” Occupational and environmental medicine 60, no. 7 (2003): 475-482.|
|↑4||Cervical spondylosis – Treatment, NHS UK.|
|↑5||Falla, Deborah, Gwendolen Jull, Paul Hodges, and Bill Vicenzino. “An endurance-strength training regime is effective in reducing myoelectric manifestations of cervical flexor muscle fatigue in females with chronic neck pain.” Clinical Neurophysiology 117, no. 4 (2006): 828-837.|
|↑6||Exercises to manage neck pain, Arthritis Research UK.|
|↑7||Linton, Steven J. “A review of psychological risk factors in back and neck pain.” SPINE-PHILADELPHIA-HARPER AND ROW PUBLISHERS THEN JB LIPPINCOTT COMPANY- 25, no. 9 (2000): 1148-1156.|
|↑8||Say “good night” to neck pain, Harvard Health Publications.|