Seven Tricks for Reducing and Preventing Neck Pain
Posted on 7/10/2018 by Nicole Tombers, P.T., DPT
In a culture dominated by cell phones, table stand computers, neck pain and headaches are becoming more and more common. Studies show that up to 45 percent of today’s workforce will experience problematic neck pain at some point.1, 2 As a physical therapist, I often find that these problems are associated with muscle tightness and weakness brought on by poor posture. It can be difficult to maintain perfectly straight posture all day, especially when your thoughts are focused on other things, such as the work project you need to finish this week, the heavy traffic on the roads around you or the emails you are answering from your tablet in the evening.
Here are a few tips and tricks that will set you up for success when it comes to maintaining good posture and reducing the strain on your neck in everyday situations.
Set your car mirror
Many people spend up to an hour or more in their car every day – driving to and from work, running errands and shuttling the kids to their many activities. Having poor posture in the car can place extra stress on the joints and muscles of your back and neck. Leave yourself a little reminder to keep good posture by adjusting your rearview mirror.
When you first get in your car, sit in a tall but comfortable posture; not leaning on the door or console, and not slouched low in your seat. Once you are in a good position, adjust your rearview mirror appropriately. Then, as you are driving, if you look in your mirror and realize you do not have the full view, it will be a reminder that you need to adjust your posture back to that good starting position.
Adjust your workspace
If you are one of the millions of people who spend their work day sitting at a desk, it can be a major source of strain on your neck and back. Modifying your workspace may help keep you in a good posture while you work. Here are a few key things to pay attention to:
When sitting, your hips and knees should be at 90 degree angle with your feet flat on the floor or stool.
Your arms should be comfortably supported on armrests with shoulders relaxed and elbows at a 90 degree angle. The keyboard and mouse should be positioned comfortably under your hands; you should not be reaching forward for the keyboard, nor should you be actively holding your shoulders up near your ears.
The monitor should be directly in front of you (if you work with more than one monitor, try to keep them centralized in your field of vision as much as possible) and the top of the monitor should be at your eye level.
Keep work off of your lap
Sitting on a couch or chair with your laptop, tablet or other papers on your lap tends to lead to a hunchbacked posture. Ideally, you should bring your work up to eye level (as discussed above) to reduce strain on your neck. If you must work from the sofa, try to raise it up a little by placing a pillow or folded blanket on your lap and working from that elevated surface.
Set a posture timer
If you know you are going to be focused on a project for a long period of time, try setting a timer on your computer or cell phone to go off every 20 to 30 minutes as a reminder to be conscious of your posture and readjust as needed.
Use a pillow roll
Ideally, you want to have a neutral spine while you sleep so that you can wake up feeling refreshed rather than cramped and stiff. Stomach sleeping is not good for your neck as it requires you to have your head turned to one side for a prolonged period. Back or side sleeping is preferred.
You want to have your head in line with your body and your neck fully supported. You can accomplish this by rolling a hand towel lengthwise and placing it inside your pillow case so that when you lay down it fills and supports the curve of your neck.
Do some self−massage
Place two tennis balls or racquet balls about one inch apart in a tube sock or nylon. You can hold the ends and place one ball on either side of your spine to give the muscles at the base or your head a nice massage.
Take stretch breaks
When you sit at a desk all day, your body grows stiff and your mind grows tired. Take a short break every hour or so. Stand up, look around, go for a short walk, take some nice deep breaths and do a few stretches. Here are a few options that can easily be done at your workstation:
Segmental rolling: Start with a nice tall posture (either sitting or standing) and focus on slowly bringing your chin to your chest one vertebra at a time until your neck and upper back are rounded forward. Hold at the bottom for a few seconds, then slowly return to upright posture one vertebra at a time.
Cat stretch: This is a popular yoga-style stretch that can be done sitting, standin, or on hands and knees. With arms stretched out in front of you, gently round your back, tuck your chin and pull your shoulder blades apart. Hold this pose for five to 10 seconds.
Upper trapezius stretch: Sitting up tall with hands resting in your lap, gently tip your head to one side and turn chin into shoulder until a stretch is felt in your neck. Hold this pose for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Upper trap stretch
Chin tuck: With ears directly over your shoulders, gently tuck your chin as if trying to make a double chin. You should feel a gentle stretch at the base of your skull.
Scapular squeeze: sitting or standing tall with ears directly over your shoulders, gently squeeze your shoulder blades together without pushing your chin forward or raising your shoulders up. Hold this pose for five seconds, relax and repeat five to 10 times.
For persistent neck pain, please consult with your physician or contact one of our outpatient physical therapy centers conveniently located near you to speak with a licensed clinician today. Our highly trained physical therapists will help to alleviate your pain and get you back to work, athletics and daily life!
By: Nicole Tombers, P.T., DPT. Nicole is a physical therapist for NovaCare in Eagle River, AK. She treats a variety of conditions, but specializes in post-surgical rehabilitation and treatment of dizziness and vertigo. Nicole loves helping people improve and providing them with the education they need to have power over their circumstances.