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Cervical Spine & Ergonomics

Cervical Spine (neck) pain is a common patient complaint, second only to low back pain prevalence in orthopaedic clinics. As more occupations become sedentary, involving long-duration computer use, complaints of neck pain will most likely rise, secondary to ergonomic issues that increase stresses in the neck that eventually lead towards pain. The location of neck pain can include the cervical spine, upper back or scapular region, around the shoulder, down the arm into the wrist and/or hand, and/or the head. Headaches are common patient complaints, secondary to the head being innervated by the same nerves that innervate the neck structures of the upper cervical spine. Increased stresses to those structures can refer pain to the head, known as cervicogenic headaches, or neck headaches.

Over time, people who sit in one place for long periods of time are at risk for developing neck pain. Depending on the ergonomic set-up of the workplace, the body may be forced to be in a position that places excessive stresses to the neck and lead towards pain. Work factors can include looking in one direction repetitively, poor seat-height or having to sit in a chair with poor lumbar and thoracic support, a poorly designed desk set-up, laptop use, vision issues, non-ergonomic mouse or keyboard, monitor height, poor office lighting, among others.

The ideal scenario for ergonomics is having the ability to properly posture yourself first, then being able to build the work environment around that ideal posture. If you have to accommodate your workspace, then you are unable to maintain proper sitting posture and increase the stresses around your cervical spine. Typically, this involves slouching through your low back and thoracic spine, which rounds your shoulders forward, pokes your chin forward, and places a lot of stress and shear in your cervical spine. A good analogy is thinking of a bowling ball placed on a stick. When that stick is upright, there is minimal stress placed on that stick, since the ball is stacked on the stick optimally. If the bowling ball comes forward even a small bit, the amount of stress now placed on that stick increases exponentially. When in a slouched, forward head posture, your body is having to fight your ‘bowling ball’ from falling off your stick (neck), which places a lot of stress on those supporting structures and eventually leads towards pain and disability.

At Life’s Work Physical Therapy (LWPT), we are highly trained in assessing people with neck pain. Two of our therapists are Fellows of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists (AAOMPT), which is a distinction held by less than 0.5% of the physical therapists in the United States. Our other therapists have been mentored countless hours to gain expertise in managing this patient population while also going through their own training in manual therapy. We pride ourselves in the ability to differential diagnose patients with cervical spine pain, and design evidence-based rehabilitation programs aimed to decrease pain and get the patient back towards normal function. Each clinician’s treatment room has an ergonomic desk set-up with sit-stand electric desks to demonstrate ideal working postures. We have our patients bring in pictures of themselves in their workplace, to see first-hand what type of postures they are adopting throughout the day. We also have the ability to come to your workplace for an in-office ergonomic evaluation. Because of the amount of hours many people sit each day at work, we believe ergonomics has to be addressed in order to see long-term neck pain success, since an 8-hour workday is typically one-half of the person’s waking hours while in that sitting position.

Other neck pain treatments at Life’s Work Physical Therapy may include manual therapy (mobilizations and manipulations) to the cervical spine and thoracic spine, deep tissue mobilization, cervical traction, cervical stabilization exercises, postural retraining, and progressive shoulder and scapular strengthening. Not only does the patient need to be able to get towards a better posture throughout the day, but he/she must also be able to stay there, which requires body endurance and overall core, shoulder, and neck strength. Every patient’s treatment program is individualized to meet their specific needs and goals, and we work in a collaborative manner to help empower the patient and get him/her able to self-manage their future neck pain instances. If you are experiencing neck pain or headaches, or would like your workspace evaluated secondary to various concerns, contact Life’s Work Physical Therapy today and set-up an evaluation with one of our therapists today.

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