Neck pain can be a constant and debilitating disorder that impacts on multiple facets of your daily life, such as work, mood, and even personal relations.
Tension through the neck can be associated with various other issues such as headaches, migraines, and shooting pain down the arm.
One of the most significant risk factors for neck pain include sedentary seated workers. Below are five proven and straightforward tips to help your recovery.
1. Neck-specific exercises
Exercises to strengthen the neck and shoulders are beneficial and effective for improving neck pain. One of the major precursors to neck pain is impaired activation and inadequate endurance of surrounding neck muscles. Specifically, individuals such as office workers, who sit for long periods are particularly vulnerable to this.
While general exercise such as running and cycling are useful to help reduce symptoms, specific strengthening techniques can significantly decrease neck pain and productivity. Below are three specific exercises that have been proven to be effective for aiding neck pain.
Deep neck flexor activation
Deep neck flexors are small muscles located in the neck which are responsible for postural support. However, in many people with neck pain, these muscles are often not working to their full capacity or endurance. By performing the exercise below, research has shown this to be one of the most effective exercises for neck pain.
As a physiotherapist who treats hundreds of necks, one of my main observations was the impact of tight muscles on neck pain. This is because millions of people are sitting in poor postures and creating stress through both the upper back and neck. Strengthening these muscles with the following exercise will help reduce muscular tightness.
Interestingly, strengthening the areas around the neck region will help reduce pain. Similar to gears in a clock, if one gear isn’t working, the other gears are working even harder. By restoring strength and endurance to the shoulder, it may offset stress through the neck. If you don’t have weights, using simple household items such as water bottles another viable option
2. Reduce and modify poor sitting habits
Prolonged sitting is not only associated with neck pain but also a whole array of other conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. There have been consistent findings that correlate sitting with neck pain and headaches. Additionally, strengthening and general exercises alone are not enough to reverse the after-effects from sitting too long.
Fortunately, there are two potential tips that you can apply to your work environment to offset these bad habit(s).
Break up your sitting habits! For at least every 30 minutes, attempt to break up your sitting with activities, such as walking, strengthening exercises, or even standing. Being consistent with this routine will help reduce the stress through the neck and upper back. If you cannot remember, set the alarm on your phone to go off every half an hour.
Sitting in poor postures such as rounded shoulders, forward head position, and hunched back increases the stress through the neck. Simple tips such as utilizing keeping your eyes level with the monitor and supporting your forearms can be hugely beneficial.
Stress. One of the most persistent contributors to neck pain and headaches. Some research has even suggested that stress plays a bigger role in neck pain than prolonged sitting. Many different variables, such as work and personal relations, can contribute to increased stress. As a physical therapist, I commonly see patients coming in with neck pain, especially during stressful parts of the year (e.g. end of the financial year).
Although there is no apparent reason for how stress causes neck pain, stress management is essential for prevention and recovery. However, one frequent observation of stressed office workers was that they had an increased tendency of unconsciously tensing their neck muscles. Therefore, removing your stressors and focusing more time on ‘stress relievers’ may benefit you psychologically and physically.
One effective but unpopular recommendation is to use your annual leave! In 2018, 768 million annual leave days were used. This statistic is staggering, given that up to 80% of workers will continue getting neck pain. Taking a day off every now and then can break the ongoing barrage of stress and aches.
Stress relievers are activities that can help alleviate stress. This is completely unique to you! Some examples of common activities which my patients have found beneficial include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, physical activity, and hobbies.
4. Using ergonomic equipment
The effectiveness of ergonomic equipment for reducing neck pain requires further research. Clinically, my patients who suffer from neck pain and tension headaches have reported benefits. By using equipment such as standing desks and standing desk converters, office workers can adjust from sitting to standing positions instantly.
However, one of the biggest problems with ergonomic equipment is a lack of adherence. Instead of maintaining a lovely posture throughout the whole day, workers will find themselves returning to their old slumping habits. To effectively utilize ergonomic equipment, it’s important a conscious effort is being made throughout the working day.
Examples of ergonomic equipment include:
- Standing desks
- Standing desk converters
- Ergonomic mouse
- Ergonomic office chair
- Standing mat
- Ergonomic keyboards
- Ergonomic mouse pads
5. Seeing a physical therapist
If your neck pain is unresolving and affecting your daily life, it would be recommended to see a physical therapist. Physical therapists utilize a whole range of techniques and evidence-based practices to ensure your neck is being managed accordingly. During your consultation, you should expect the following
- Thorough questioning and screening of your neck pain
- Comprehensive physical assessment
- Pain management techniques (e.g. joint mobilizations, massage, electrotherapy, dry needling, manipulations, etc.)
- Advice about lifestyle modifications
- Specific exercise and rehabilitation
Depending on the cause and type of neck condition, your physical therapist will help mutually develop an ongoing management plan. You may be required to touch base with your physical therapist for multiple sessions to ensure optimal recovery.
If you have neck pain or stiffness, it’s important that you adhere to these tips to avoid worsening symptoms. It’s important to remain consistent with these habitual changes as benefits will only be felt through accumulated efforts.
Disclaimer: The content written on this page was created for educational purposes. Information on this page should not be used as medical advice or a substitution for seeking the services of a health professional. Anyone suffering from neck pain should book in a consultation with their primary healthcare practitioner (e.g. physical therapist, family doctor, etc.)