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It’s a real pain in the neck!

Neck pain is a common problem now. It is possibly due to the rise of more sedentary jobs. It may be partly due to the rise of computers, tablets and smart phones all of which are common in everyday use. We have never looked down so much before!  There are of course many reasons which may cause neck pain. Let’s take a look at 2 easy ones you can help yourself.

Postural neck pain

As the title suggests, it is due to prolonged postures.  As a rule of thumb this is anyone who sits for a living, most likely in front of a computer screen!  So what is so different that might cause pain? Well our heads are heavy…11 lb or 4kg. Our spines have developed to take the weight of our head through our neck.  The muscles around your neck can easily hold your head when you are stood. People rarely complain of neck pain when walking. However when we start looking down or adopt a ‘forward head’ posture the weight of our head is put through our spines differently and that makes the muscles around our neck work much harder.  Try holding 4kg close to you, and then try holding it further away from your body to see what we mean! So what causes the pain? Well… generally it’s the muscles. They get tired, they are asking for a rest and for more blood, oxygen and energy to continue working so hard.

The solution?

Get your head back on top of your neck! Lean your upper back against the chair and you should find this helps.  In addition to this if you are an office worker move your keyboard and mouse closer so that your upper arm falls to by your side, like it would when you are stood, as opposed to reaching forwards in front of you. And of course move often! These simple changes should reduce your muscle tension, put the weight of your heavy head back where it should be and reduce your pain.

Neck pain and stress

This is something that often people are hesitant to talk about or accept, which is understandable without explanation.  So let’s put this into context. We all have stress of varying levels in our lives, but sometimes it can increase due to our family, friends or work situations.  Now stress changes your physiology. It does not mean the pain is ‘all in your head’. Stress causes us to hold ourselves more tense in our muscles, we may not breathe so deeply or sleep so well and there are changes within the chemicals in our brain.  These are real changes meaning that we can experience pain in the absence of harm or damage to any structures. But it is still real pain and it really hurts. Ever been nervous before and felt your stomach tighten or churn? Well that is similar, a physical symptom due to an stressful time.

The solution?

Easier said than done, but try to reduce the things that are causing you to be stressed.  If you can’t do that maybe recognise that you are tense and use some active coping strategies like relaxation, breathing techniques or mindfulness, or even just moving your shoulders more often should help.

Of course if you are concerned about your neck pain or have pins and needles, numbness or weakness in your arm please consult a health professional with a specialism in musculoskeletal problems.