A Pain in the Neck

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Kim Jack­son

Are you suf­fer­ing from neck pain, headaches? Do you wake ev­ery morn­ing with a stiff and painful neck? Neck pain is a com­mon com­plaint and af­fects ap­prox­i­mately 33.6 mil­lion peo­ple a year world­wide. There are many causes of neck pain, the most ob­vi­ous be­ing poor pos­ture. So what is caus­ing your poor pos­ture? Bad habits, weak­ness, life­style. The new buzz word out there is text neck: so many peo­ple are us­ing wire­less de­vices such as cell phones and tablets, not just for making calls and mes­sag­ing, but for surf­ing the web and even read­ing books.

One univer­sity study re­ports that on av­er­age a per­son spends five hours a day on the phone. The pos­tures we adopt when us­ing these new gad­gets are caus­ing us to hunch our up­per backs and to poke our chins for­ward. But it’s not only our necks that suf­fer from these new pos­tures; our up­per backs, shoul­ders, even our arms can be af­fected.

So why is this hap­pen­ing? Well, first con­sider that the av­er­age head weighs ten pounds. At a 15-de­gree an­gle, this weight in­creases to about 27 lbs, at 30 de­grees to 40 lbs, at 45 de­grees to 49 lbs, and at 60 de­grees it’s 60 lbs. As the head moves from its neu­tral po­si­tion its weight in­creases, putting pres­sure on the neck and up­per back. So what does 60lbs feel like? Imag­ine car­ry­ing an 8-year-old around all day. As you hold your neck for­ward in this po­si­tion all the tis­sue stretches and causes sore­ness and in­flam­ma­tion. Imag­ine bend­ing your fin­ger back and hold­ing it there. Even af­ter a few min­utes you start to feel dis­com­fort.

But it isn’t only how we move around dur­ing the day, how we sleep can also be the cause of our neck pain. How many times have you wo­ken up with a stiff or painful neck? So how do we pro­tect our neck while sleep­ing? Firstly, let’s look at our pil­lows: the best rule for choos­ing a pil­low is find one that keeps the neck in neu­tral, or even con­sider an or­thopaedic neck pil­low that pro­vides sup­port in all the right places. Next, mon­i­tor your favourite sleep­ing po­si­tion. Most peo­ple find ly­ing on their backs is the most com­fort­able for their necks; it helps to keep the spine in neu­tral. If you are more com­fort­able lay­ing on your side, choose a pil­low that raises your head enough to keep your spine in neu­tral, but avoid sleep­ing in a curled up po­si­tion. Sleep­ing curled up causes all the mus­cles of the neck and back to over­stretch (a po­si­tion that we use of­ten through­out the day, when sit­ting slouched). The worst po­si­tion for our necks is lay­ing on our stom­achs as we have to turn our neck to the side and this puts a lot of strain on the mus­cles and soft tis­sue, so avoid this as much as pos­si­ble.

So what can we do about it? Well, firstly we need to mon­i­tor our use of de­vices and, se­condly, we need to check our pos­ture. A good way to im­prove our pos­ture is to ex­er­cise. Sim­ple ex­er­cises would be:

Strength­en­ing for the neck:

• To ex­er­cise mus­cles at the side of the neck, put your right hand against the right side of your head above your ear. As you press against the side of your head with your hand, also press your head back against your hand. You should feel the mus­cles at the side of your neck tighten, but your head should not move to ei­ther side. Press firmly, but not quite as hard as you can. Hold for about six sec­onds, rest for up to 10 sec­onds, then re­peat to the left side.

• To ex­er­cise mus­cles at the back of the neck and up­per back, put one hand over the other and place them at the back of your head. Press your hands against your head at the same time you press your head straight back against your hands. Press firmly, but not quite as hard as you can. Do not tip your head back. Hold for about six sec­onds, rest for up to 10 sec­onds, then re­peat. • To ex­er­cise mus­cles at the front of the neck, place both hands against your fore­head just above your eye­brows. Press your hands against your fore­head at the same time you press your head against your hands. Press firmly, but not quite as hard as you can. Do not tip your head for­ward. Hold for about six sec­onds, rest for up to 10 sec­onds, then re­peat.

Re­peat each ex­er­cise eight to 12 times. Stretch­ing for the neck and chest

• To stretch the mus­cles at the side of your neck. In a seated po­si­tion, slowly bend your neck un­til you feel a stretch. To in­crease the stretch hold on to the chair with the op­po­site hand to the stretch and, with the other hand, ap­ply gen­tle pres­sure to in­crease the side bend.

• To stretch the mus­cles at the front and side of your neck. In a seated or stand­ing po­si­tion, slowly turn your head to the right un­til you feel a stretch. To in­crease the stretch ap­ply gen­tle pres­sure with your right hand. Re­peat to the left side.

• To stretch the mus­cles at the back of your neck. In a seated or stand­ing po­si­tion, slowly tuck your chin into your chest.

Hold the stretches for 10-15 sec­onds. Re­peat if nec­es­sary.

Com­mon Neck Stretch to Avoid

Neck cir­cles, which in­volve the slow ro­ta­tion of the head be­ing tilted and rolled in a full cir­cle, have been per­formed by most peo­ple in gym class or while par­tic­i­pat­ing in a sport or dance class. How­ever, re­search shows that the com­bi­na­tion of ex­tend­ing the head back­ward and ro­tat­ing it puts un­due stress on the cer­vi­cal spine. Com­pared to other neck move­ments, neck cir­cles could also cause more com­pres­sion of the ar­ter­ies that take blood to the brain.

If you are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing neck pain and have had it for longer than four weeks, then the best course of ac­tion is to seek ad­vice from a pro­fes­sional. A good choice would be a phys­io­ther­a­pist. Phys­io­ther­a­pists are health­care pro­fes­sion­als who treat pain move­ment dis­func­tion. They will as­sess you and as­sist you to re­duce your pain and dis­com­fort, and teach you ways to man­age your symp­toms and ad­vise on the best ex­er­cises to help you.

Kim Jack­son is a UK-trained phys­io­ther­a­pist with over 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence. She spe­cial­izes in mus­cu­loskele­tal pain and dys­func­tional, in­clud­ing back pain and sci­at­ica, stroke and other neuro con­di­tions, plus phys­io­ther­apy. She has worked with lo­cal, re­gional and in­ter­na­tional ath­letes and teams, treat­ing in­juries and an­a­lyz­ing biome­chan­ics to im­prove func­tion and per­for­mance. Ms Jack­son is reg­is­tered with the Al­lied Health Coun­cil and is a mem­ber of PASL. She cur­rently works at Bay­side Ther­apy Ser­vices in Rod­ney Bay. www.bayside­the­r­a­phy­ser­vices.com

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