Neck pain is a common occurrence and a popular reason for people seeking massage therapy. It can be caused by a range of issues such as injury, degenerative discs, spinal stenosis, herniated disc, arthritis etc. This blog will look at “mechanical” neck pain. This is pain that has no serious underlying medical condition or trapped/compressed nerves. The most common type of pain in the neck is “mechanical” or sometimes referred to as “simple” neck pain.
When to seek medical help
You should see your GP if the pain you are experiencing in your neck is severe and persistent; particularly if it is accompanied by numbness, weakness or tingling in the arms or legs. Sharp shooting pain into the shoulder or arm is also an indicator to seek medical advice.
The neck is a complex structure. It is comprised of 7 cervical vertebrae. These bones are cushioned by cartilage discs (intervertebral discs). There are numerous structures in the neck such as muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, nerves, the cervical portion of the spinal cord, the pharynx (connects nose and mouth cavities with the oesophagus and trachea), larynx (voice box), trachea (windpipe) oesophagus, lymph nodes, thyroid and parathyroid glands. The neck supports the head which weighs around 10 -11 pounds!
Common causes of neck pain
Many of us have woken up with a ‘crick’ in our necks after sleeping in an awkward position. Falling asleep in a chair, on the sofa, in a different bed with pillows we’re not used to can all be causes.
Avoid sleeping on your stomach as this puts a lot of strain on your neck from having to rotate it to one side and also puts more pressure on the spine.
Sleeping on your back is often considered the best sleep position. Your pillow should support your neck and shoulders. Placing a pillow under the knees can help take the strain off your spine.
Side sleepers may find a pillow between the knees helps keep the hips balanced.
Using your neck muscles in a way that your body isn’t used too can cause neck pain. For example, looking upwards for long periods such as painting a ceiling, watching an air show or sightseeing.
When undertaking an activity that is placing strain on your neck, take regular breaks and move your head and neck in different directions instead of remaining in one position.
We spend so much time hunching over our smartphones, Ipads/tablets, laptops and computers. This posture we adopt places strain on the muscles in our necks, shoulders and backs. Slouching in our chair or car especially when driving long distances can also be contributing factors. Overtime this may lead to ongoing tension and tightness in these areas. The majority of my clients who come to see me due to issues in the neck and shoulders are those that spend a lot of time on the computer.
Take regular breaks and stretch. Hold your phone higher so that you are not hunching over it. Check the position of your monitor and chair and try to maintain a better posture.
How to Relieve Your Neck Pain
If you sleep on your stomach switch to side sleeping or sleeping on your back. Use only one pillow for your head. More than one pillow will elevate your head into an unnatural position placing stress on your neck and spine. A pillow that is too flat may place strain on your neck. One that is too high or firm will not allow the neck to relax.
Sleeping on your back
Cervical pillows provide extra support under the neck. Alternatively try placing a rolled up towel in the pillowcase.
Placing a pillow so that it supports the shoulders and head can prevent the neck from being in a flexed position (bent forward).
Place a pillow under the knees to take off strain on the lower back.
Sleeping on your side
Use a pillow that allows the neck and head to align straight over the shoulders.
Placing a pillow between the legs can help support the spine.
A pillow to rest your arm on can increase comfort.
Avoid sitting or standing in one position too long. Take regular breaks.
Avoid slouching or hunching over for long periods. Hold your phone higher and don’t cradle it in your neck when on a call.
Keep your monitor screen at eye level.
Ice can be useful when applied at the onset of pain in the first 24-48 hours. It helps numb pain and ease inflammation. Heat helps muscles relax, may help improve blood flow to the area and feels soothing. Either heat or ice can be applied according to your preference. Alternating between heat and ice can also be beneficial. When applying heat or ice don’t apply directly onto the skin and use for a maximum of 20 minutes at a time. If using a combination of both leave at least an hour in between each application.
Regular stretching exercise can help improve flexibility and be a preventative measure from neck pain. Slow, gentle stretching may help reduce the tightness and stiffness you are experiencing in your neck. Try these simple stretches and remember if it feels uncomfortable or increases your pain then stop.
Try to hold each stretch for 20 seconds and repeat each 4 times
Lateral Neck Stretch
Stand with your hands behind your back. Look forward, keeping your head up. Slowly move your left ear towards your left shoulder. (Make sure you don’t move your shoulder up). You will feel a stretch in the right side of your neck. Repeat on the other side, moving your right ear to your right shoulder. You will feel a stretch in the left side of your neck.
Muscles involved: Levator scapulae, Sternocleidomastoid, Trapezius, Scalenus anterior, Scalenus medius.
Rotating Neck Stretch
Keep your shoulders still and your head up. Slowly move your head to the left side. You will feel a stretch in the right side of your neck. Repeat on the other side, moving your head to the right side. You will feel a stretch in the left side of your neck.
Muscles involved: Longissimus capitis, Semispinalis capitis, Splenius capitis, Sternocleidomastoid, Levator scapulae, Trapezius.
Forward Flexion Stretch
Stand upright and slowly move your chin to your chest. You will feel a slight stretch in the back of your neck.
Muscles involved: Longissimus capitis, Semispinalis capitis, Splenius capitis, Levator scapulae, Semispinalis cervices, Longissimus cervicis, Splenius cervices, Spinalis thoracis, Rhomboid minor and major.
Stand with your arms by your side. Gently bend your head backwards (so your are looking at the ceiling). You will feel a stretch in the front of your neck.
Muscles involved: Semispinalis capitis, Splenius capitis, Longissimus capitis, Splenius cervicis.
Massage may be able to help with aches, pains and stiffness in your neck. Easing tension and tightness in the neck and shoulders, relaxing the muscles and improving flexibility.
Regular massage therapy may keep the stress and tension in your body from building up. Taking care of the body with ongoing massage treatments may help minimise the discomfort of neck pain.
Give it a go
The steps above are medication free ways to deal with your pain and can also be preventative measures. You may feel that you require other pain relief. You can try over the counter medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the labels and follow the directions carefully.
Pain in the neck may limit your ability to safely carry out daily activities such as driving. Chronic neck pain may also impact your emotional and mental wellbeing. Give the 5 steps a try and maybe it will help rid you of that pain in your neck!