Neck or cervical pain is among the top five causes of disability and pain worldwide. If you have persistent neck pain, you are not alone. The World Health Organization estimates that 332 million people worldwide suffer with neck pain. As most of the world’s population is living longer, spinal pain (including neck) and headaches have moved up the ranks as one of the most prevalent and costly health conditions.
The good news is there’s a lot you can do to relieve your neck pain. In fact, there’s a lot you can do to get rid of neck pain altogether. In some cases, if you have persistent headaches, figuring out how to relieve your neck pain can actually improve your headaches too!
If you have not been diagnosed by a physical therapist or other health care provider for your neck pain, this can be an important step in recovery. Many times, orthopedic manual physical therapy is needed to help get the body on track to recover from neck pain or injury. Please refer to an earlier blog about How to Find a Good PT.
In the meantime, here are 5 things you need to do to relieve your neck pain
1. Put your head on your body
If your face or head sits forward of your shoulders, you are at risk for neck pain if you don’t already have it. An average head weighs about 8-10 lbs. The further forward your head is, the muscles of your neck and upper back have to work much harder to hold it up. Over time, the muscles will develop painful “knots” due to overwork. Have a friend take a picture of you in a relaxed sitting position. Notice if your ear is directly over your shoulder. If not, work on putting your head on your body to relieve neck pain.
2. Bring your work closer to you:
When seated at a computer, bring your monitor to within 24 inches of your eyes, and make sure the middle one third of your screen is at eye level. (Please refer to our earlier blog on computer ergonomics for more information.) In general, bring work toward your face to reduce neck pain. Persistent craning of your neck and a forward head puts undo strain on the muscles, bones and joints of the neck.
3. Support your lower back when sitting:
At the base of your spine, you have a gentle inward curve. It is this lower back inward curve that aligns the spine when seated and lets your head rest in its normal position. By placing a pillow or adjusting your office chair to support your lower back inward curve, you can actually relieve your neck pain.
4. Perform gentle exercise:
If your neck is hurting right now, take time to do a self-treatment we prescribe in physical therapy to relieve your neck pain. Fold a hand towel lengthwise and then roll it into a small (3-inch diameter) roll. Lie flat on your back with no pillow, and place the roll under the bumps on the base of your skull. Let your head be very heavy relaxing all the muscles of your neck. Now gently and slightly nod your head yes as you exhale. Repeat 10-20 times for up to 3-5 minutes.
5. Keep your upper back flexible and strong:
One of the best ways to relieve neck pain is to maintain good flexibility and strength of your thoracic spine and rib cage. Roll on a foam roller or small ball all through your thorax to promote good alignment of your neck from below. Perform shoulder strengthening exercises to include retraction and depression as well as rotator cuff strengthening to support your neck.
While neck pain is a very common orthopedic condition, performing some or all of the above self treatments will provide you some neck pain relief. The biggest service you can do to relieve your neck pain is to be mindful of your neck position during the day. The more often you find yourself with a very forward head, the more often you will feel neck pain. Learning how to relieve your neck pain starts with putting your head on your body!
Best of luck,
Sandra Stryker, PT, MPT, COMT, FAAOMPT