Neck pain is one of the main diagnoses that keep me in business, right behind back pain. Neck pain can be as mild as some discomfort when turning your head - to migraines and radiating pain into your upper extremities. There are a variety of reasons that your neck may be hurting. Some reasons include trauma, nerve impingement, degenerative disc disorder, posture, and arthritis. The good news is that neck pain is common, and most neck pain can be managed with non-invasive treatment.
In my experience, poor posture is the #1 reason behind your chronic neck pain. Poor posture can wreak havoc on your spine. Our world is full of reasons that put our bodies in chronic poor posture. Cell Phones, reading, computers, cleaning, driving...I could go on and on. As time goes on, our bodies adapt to our posture by shortening and elongating muscles causing severe imbalances. Every inch your head sets forward adds 10+ pounds of force to the muscles in your neck and spine. No wonder you are fatigued and in chronic pain. Some of us are walking around with bowling balls for heads!
Pain can come in many varieties, dull, achy, sharp, radiating, stiff, burning, and tingling. Each of these types of pain can create a better picture of the reason behind your pain. Sharp and radiating pain can be caused by nerve impingement, while dull and achy can be a sign of arthritis. Regardless of your cause of pain, there are many things you can do to relieve the pain.
1. Heat and ice therapy: Many people ask which is better, heat or ice? My suggestion is to heat for less than 20 min for muscle tension; Ice for inflammation. How do you know the difference? Muscle tension may happen gradually, at the end of the day or after sleeping. Your neck may feel stiff and immobile. This is an excellent time for heat. Inflammation happens after a hard workout or repetitive motion. Inflammation feels warm to the touch. inflammation is stimulated 24-48 hours after an injury. This is an excellent time for ice. Each person is unique; play around with both heat and ice to see which works better for you and your body and diagnosis. Just a reminder that heat stimulates inflammation, so do not leave it on for more than 20 min at a time.
2. Improve your posture: Poor posture can cause upper cross syndrome. Upper cross syndrome is prevalent in people who work on computers, drive, sit a lot, read, or spend large amounts of time with forward-rolled shoulders. Your muscles in the back of your neck become overstretched and overworked, while the muscles in your chest tighten. These tight chest muscles become chronically shortened and pull your neck and shoulders forward. Becoming aware of your day-to-day posture and making corrections can significantly improve your neck pain.
3. Exercise: Exercise can include strengthening and stretching. Specific postural exercises can improve your neck stability, decrease the tight muscles, and improve your posture. Chest stretches, bird dogs, and chin tucks are great "go-to" exercises. Finding a good physical therapist is a great place to start. They can prescribe the appropriate exercises to improve your posture and decrease the strain on your neck.