Neck Pain... The advice we give our patients
Neck pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal presentations we see as osteopaths. Unless there’s been obvious trauma, the vast majority of neck pain is the result of chronic and repetitive stress and strain.
Our modern way of life has a lot to answer for. Sure being in air conditioned comfort during work hours is great, but being glued to a chair staring at a screen for all that time has spawned what is otherwise known as desk disease. Symptoms may vary, but followers of this blog will already know about back pain and headaches, and maybe picked up a few tips to keep them in check. But what about neck pain?
The cervical region is functionally and structurally highly complex. The head (and brain) is heavy in relation to the rest of the body, and it relies on a relatively slender neck to keep it upright. The neck is also the most mobile section of the spine, and that relies on an intricate crisscrossing of muscles to keep it stable and mobile. To complicate matters, neck muscles are far reaching. They span between the base of the skull through to mid back, and include the shoulder blades and upper ribs. This expansive connection between the neck and the upper body means there’s plenty of contributors for neck pain.
When we sit for long hours at the desk, it’s not just our necks that are motionless, its our whole body. Movement tends to be minimal and often oscillating between two short points. If you’ve ever hand beaten egg whites you’ll know just how painful your forearm can get. This is exactly what your upper body, and by extension your neck, is doing during desk work. Whether you’re flicking between split screens, or moving your mouse around, all this contributes to neck pain. So, what can you do to minimise the pain, and maybe even eliminate it?
Optimise your desk for better posture
To be honest even with the best posture, the fact that you’re a virtual statue for hours on end means you’ll likely develop pain from inactivity. That said, good posture is still very important as it minimises undue mechanical stress your body endures.
Your head is a very heavy object that you’re trying to keep in balance all the time. This fight against gravity becomes exponentially more difficult the further your posture deviates from what is optimal for your task or position. This isn’t an issue if you’re transitioning in and out of that posture every so often, but as we just said, you’re a statue, for hours, and hours…
Tea or coffee?
On the topic of being a virtue statue, don’t. Revolutionary advice, I know, and we didn’t even charge you a cent. It might sound simple but how often are we so engrossed with the task at hand that we don’t even know the passing of time? I often hear patients say they know they don’t take enough breaks, so here’s a nice little trick. Make yourself a tea (or coffee but that’s a different article).
Developing the habit of drinking more fluids during work hours will automatically force you out of that chair more often. Firstly to relieve yourself of the extra fluids you’ve consumed, but also to refill that drink. The smaller the cup the more often you’ll be getting up. Try to structure it so you’re up and about every 15-30 minutes, anything more frequent and your productivity may start to be questioned.
For most of us leaving a desk job may not be viable, and that 40 hour week penance is non-negotiable. But we can offset some of the ill effects simply by being active outside of work.
If you’re not already active, exercising might sound like a slog. Pick an activity or fitness regime that you enjoy, that way you’ll stay engaged and motivated for longer, and make it easier to transition into a more active lifestyle.
Now this was taught to me many moons ago by a mentor that I still prescribe almost on a daily basis. Have no doubt that you will look ridiculous when performing this while waiting for that kettle to boil, but you’ll feel much better for it. Who knows, you might even start a new office movement.
So what is this miracle mating ritual? Simply place your hand on your shoulder (same hand same shoulder), or fingers if you can’t reach. Then with your elbows, draw as big a circle as you can, exaggerate the movement to make sure your shoulder blades are moving too. This activates all the muscles from neck to shoulders to mid back and forces circulation through that whole region. Do as many and as often as your ego will allow.
Nothing beats a stretch
Nothing beats a good stretch when it comes to tired and sore muscles. And with that wide array of muscles overlying the neck, a good neck stretch should provide some much needed relief.
Simply sit on one hand to anchor that shoulder down, and with the other gently pull the head away from the fixed hand. You should feel a stretch along the side of the neck. For best results you can also turn your head down and up to cover as many of those muscles as possible. Just remember to maintain a static hold for at least 30 seconds for the stretch to be effective.
If after all that your neck is still bothering you, feel free to see one of our friendly osteopaths at Southside Wellbeing. Everyone’s body is different and the “one size fits all” approach often doesn’t work. Come see what an individualised diagnosis and treatment plan can do for you.
Dr Jason Lee is a practicing Osteopath at Southside Wellbeing in Gardenvale. He is available for further advice on headaches and other musculo-musculoskeletal conditions should you wish to address cause of symptoms and improve your health. Jason is focused on getting his patients back to doing the things they love through Osteopathic treatment, exercise rehabilitation and other lifestyle advice.
Appointments can be made online or call us on 95306449.