We know how frustrating it can be and our guess is you probably know too. If you are currently struggling with neck pain or have in the past, you will have experienced those frustrations and the negative impact it can have on daily activities. Simple tasks like turning your head whilst driving or brushing your teeth can become a challenge. Unfortunately, neck pain is common and something that we see often as a Chiropractor. In fact, it is reported that up to 70% of the population experience some form of neck pain during their lives1.
Everyone’s experience of neck pain can differ, but commonly for ‘simple’ neck pain, we see symptoms such as reduced and painful movement of the neck, tenderness to touch or pain that radiates to the head, shoulder area or arm.
So why does neck pain start in the first place?
There can be several contributing factors that cause neck pain. This includes sustained poor posture, sporting and work activities, and stress and anxiety. Sometimes there can be degenerative change within the neck that can contribute towards the discomfort, or it can start from a whiplash injury to the neck, caused by a sudden movement of the neck in one direction then another. For the purpose of this blog however, we will be focusing on neck pain that is not linked to whiplash.
The good news is that neck pain can often self-resolve or go with some tailored care such as chiropractic.
If you are struggling with neck pain, here are 7 things you can do proactively to help:
1. Consider chiropractic
Chiropractic care is a natural and effective approach to help neck pain2. Scheduling a visit with your chiropractor to assess your neck and adjust if necessary, will provide that reassurance and assist in the healing process.
2. Check your sleeping position and pillows
Lying in a neutral position on your back will help to reduce the tension on your spine and surrounding tissues. We’d recommend using one thin pillow whilst on your back which will prevent your head and neck being forced into a forward flexed position. If you prefer to sleep on your side, make sure your pillow fills the depth of your shoulder so that your head remains neutral in line with your body. Avoid sleeping on your front where possible, as this will force your head to one side and likely exacerbate the issue.
3. Keep mobile
Sitting down, whether it be at a desk, driving, or relaxing on your sofa can result in your spine rounding and head creeping forward. Doing this for a sustained period may contribute to the discomfort. So be sure to keep as mobile as possible. Setting an alarm to have a stand up and move around every 20 minutes can provide that well needed reminder and help you to reset your posture. If you are driving, ensure your head is supported by the head rest.
4. Reduce and adapt your screen use
Technology is wonderful for many things but unfortunately it does not do wonders for your spine. Using phones and computers can cause you to look down which will put stress on your spine. Where you can, reducing your screen time will give you that well deserved break physically and mentally. However, if you need to use your devices, ensure you elevate your screen so the area of the screen you look at the most is just above your eyeline. This will encourage you to look straight ahead and slightly up, instead of down.
5. Gentle movement and stretching
Incorporating some gentle movement can help with the recovery process. It doesn’t have to involve pulling your head around, it can be as simple as slowly moving your head in all directions. We’d recommend doing this following a warm bath or shower and ensure you adapt the movement for you whilst listening to your body, so you are not pushing through pain.
6. Ice vs Heat
If your neck pain has just started and it feels hot or swollen, ice may be helpful for the first 24 to 48 hours. Apply something cool to the area (such as a bag of peas wrapped in a tea towel) for 10 minutes periodically. This may help to reduce inflammation and pain. If your neck pain has been going on for more than 48 hours and you are experiencing a stiff and painful neck, then applying some heat to the area can help the muscles around your spine to relax and provide a soothing effect. A warm shower can do the trick, or you can purchase wheat bags or water bottles that are flexible and allow them to drape around your neck. Do this for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
When it comes to ice and heat, personal preference is a factor based on what you find helpful so as always, listen to your body and if in doubt, please ask.
7. Stress management
It would be unrealistic to remove all stress from your life, but it’s important to take a moment to reflect if that may be linked to your neck pain. When you’re stressed, a natural response for your body is for tension to increase and commonly this can manifest in the neck, shoulders, and face. Whether it be clenching the jaw, frowning, or raising and rounding the shoulders, it is a defensive mechanism your body does to protect you. But unfortunately, if this continues, it can contribute to that pain you are experiencing. To help manage your stress, we’d recommend ‘box breathing’. It’s a technique you can do anywhere, and without anyone knowing. It will help move your body away from that stress response, and if you do it proactively it will help you become more resilient so when that stressful moment comes up, you will be better prepared to deal with it. Here’s what you do:
- Take a breath in through your mouth for 4 seconds
- Hold for 4 seconds
- Exhale for 4 seconds
- Pause for 4 seconds
- Repeat as many times are necessary
If you are struggling with neck pain, be sure to give the areas we have discussed a go and see if it helps. If your neck pain persists or you are experiencing other symptoms that are causing concern then please reach out, we are here to help. You can schedule a visit at the practice where we will aim to get to the root cause of the issue and let you know if chiropractic care can help.
1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. (2022). Retrieved from National Institute for Health and Care Excellence: https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/neck-pain-non-specific/background-information/prevalence/
2. Advertising Standards Authority. (2022). Retrieved from Advertising Standards Authority: https://www.asa.org.uk/advice-online/health-chiropractic.html
The content of this article is for educational purposes and is not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.