When I think about chronic neck pain, I think about headaches, difficulty sleeping and an inability to focus on anything. So I was quite surprised to hear from one of our physical therapists that the most common cause of neck pain is poor posture, something that is easily remedied. Read on to hear about the variety ways our poor posture can cause neck pain, as well as some simple ways to avoid it.
Relieving neck pain
with advice from Gini Davis, PT, MA
Neck pain is a common and debilitating problem. While some cases can be caused by serious conditions, according to Gini Davis, a physical therapist and owner of Crescent City Physical Therapy (a Physiquality member in New Orleans), the most common cause of neck pain is poor posture. This can be due to a variety of reasons:
- Sitting and standing incorrectly.
While it’s easy to recognize when someone else is slouching, it’s much harder to correct the behavior in ourselves. As Kristina Holland noted in a previous Physiquality blog, “Good posture takes self-awareness and effort to maintain correct alignment, whereas poor posture is giving in to the constant pull of gravity.”
- Looking at your gadgets.
Gini points out that many people look down at their laptop/iPad/iPhone/other electronic gadgets with the head forward and down, putting strain on the back of the neck. In fact, a 2012 study found that 90% of the subjects texted with their necks flexed, or bent at more than 10 degrees. The author, Judith Gold, told Forbes last year that “the more the participants in her studies texted, the greater the chance that they would experience neck or shoulder pain.” (And texting doesn’t just cause neck pain; excessive texting has also been shown to cause pain in the wrists, fingers and thumbs.)
- Sitting at a desk all day long.
Remaining at your desk for the duration of the day can cause strain on the eyes, neck and back. In addition, sedentary jobs and bad eating habits, including eating lunch at one’s desk, have contributed to rising obesity and increased risks for heart attacks.
- Watching TV in bed.
Gini reminds readers that propping yourself up on pillows to watch TV for hours before nodding off may seem like a good idea, but the lack of support can contribute to neck pain. And, as we pointed out In July, the glow of the television can impede our chances of a good night’s sleep.
- Sleeping with too many pillows.
Many people think that using multiple pillows will be more comfortable, but sleeping with more than one pillow can affect the curve of your neck and create pain and stiffness upon waking. If your neck pain often occurs in the morning, thinking about investing in a quality pillow vs. sleeping on several.
If your neck pain is chronic, Gini says there are a few things you can do to reduce your daily pain. If you work at a desk all day, evaluate your space. Make sure that your eye line doesn’t cause you to look down all day, and request a supportive chair for your back. (If your back isn’t supported, you’re more likely to have neck strain by the end of the day as well.) And sit properly at your desk; poor sitting posture is just as bad for your neck and back as poor standing posture. For a full breakdown of a healthy workspace, read our previous entry on workplace ergonomics.
Break up your day, whether you’re sitting or standing, with a few exercises. Gini recommends doing chin tucks, 10 at a time, as frequently as once an hour, to loosen up your neck and to reduce stiffness. Even doing a simple standing stretch (stand, reach your arms above your head and stretch towards the ceiling for 5-10 seconds) will create blood flow and help you feel better — and give you a break from looking at your screen and gadgets.
And walk daily! It can be a 10-minute walk at lunch, a lap around the building during your afternoon break, or a longer one with the family when you get home. Gini encourages everyone to take the time to get moving. It can lower your blood pressure, strengthen your muscles and lighten your mood.
If you’ve tried several things and your neck pain hasn’t subsided, or if any of the above exercises causes acute pain, it’s time to consult a doctor or physical therapist to discuss your condition. A physical therapist can help determine the cause of your pain, and develop an exercise program to help strengthen the neck and back, reducing your pain.
Gini Davis, PT, MA, is a physical therapist and owner at Crescent City Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member in New Orleans, Louisiana. A foot/ankle specialist with more than 35 years of experience, she is also a board member of PTPN, the nation’s premier network of rehabilitation therapists in independent practice, and the parent company of Physiquality.
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For further reading, look through our selection of articles on health and wellness, in addition to the below links:
- The importance of a good night’s sleep. July 15, 2014.
- Are you texting your way to injury? February 3, 2014.
- Step away from the computer! April 17, 2013.
- Workplace ergonomics. November 30, 2012.
- Get walking! June 4, 2012.
- Stand up straight! December 2, 2011.
Iliades, Chris. The consequence of sleeping the wrong way. EverydayHealth.com, November 13, 2013.
Quilter, Deborah. How texting can give you a permanent pain in the neck. Forbes, June 7, 2013.
Mosaic PT. Chin tuck physical therapy exercise. YouTube.com, March 14, 2013.
Neck pain: Definition. Mayo Clinic, September 11, 2012.
Gold, Judith, J.B. Driban, Nadja Thomas, T. Chakravarty, V. Channell and E. Komaroff. Postures, typing strategies, and gender differences in mobile device usage: An observational study. Applied Ergonomics, March 2012.
Parker-Pope, Tara. Less active at work, Americans have packed on the pounds. New York Times, May 25, 2011.
Stein, Jeannine. Working longer hours may make the boss happy, but it could take a toll on your heart. Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2011.