How to Get Rid of Your Neck Pain
Neck pain or stiffness is one of the most common complaints we treat at Physio London, and is particularly common amongst people who work at a desk for prolonged periods.
While it can be very uncomfortable and upsetting, neck pain is rarely a result of a serious condition. In fact, the sort of structural problems that people often worry about when they have neck pain are usually not felt in the neck at all.
A quick bit of anatomy
The neck section of your spine is known as the cervical spine, and is made up of vertebrae C1 through C7. C1 and C2 combine to form the atlantoaxial joint, which provides most of the movement of your head, while C3 through C7 are like the rest of the vertebrae in your spine with facet joints and intervertebral discs – both of which are susceptible to degeneration.
Facet joints can become arthritic or develop bone spurs, while discs can lose volume over time or prolapse and compress your spinal nerves, leading to tingling, numbness or pain in your shoulders, upper back, arms or hands depending on which cervical nerve is affected – though most disc degeneration is a natural part of ageing and is not symptomatic.
The referral patterns (pain that is felt in one part of the body, but caused by a problem in another) of the cervical spine and surrounding muscles are so complex that everything from headaches (which I’ve written about before) to chest pain can be caused by a problem in your neck.
As usual, the desk job is to blame
If you’re feeling pain or stiffness in the neck itself, it’s much more likely to be caused by weakness or imbalance of your neck and/or shoulder muscles than any sort of structural issue in your spine.
Like with any other movable part of your body, your neck will be more healthy the more you move it. The problem is, many of us keep our heads still for hours on end, whether at work staring at a computer or at home watching television, reading or using our phones.
If you compare to how our ancestors live to how we live now, it’s easy to see how our necks become deconditioned. When we’re outdoors, we’re constantly moving our heads to look around, but if you’re sitting at a desk all day, your neck is never challenged.
Eventually, your body will stop seeing the need to maintain the strength in your neck muscles, leading to weakness, imbalance and stiffness. This means that even fit and active people can suffer from neck pain, because it’s so easy to forget to exercise your neck.
Simple exercises for a stronger neck
Encouraging neck movement is one of the many physical benefits of the simple daily walk. A 30 minute walk (easy to integrate into your commute or lunch break) gives you an opportunity to look left, right, up and down as you check for traffic, look at passers by or just take in the scenery.
There are also neck exercises that you can do to prevent the onset of neck pain, which we also prescribe in our treatments. These involve simply sitting in a tall posture with your shoulder blades back and repeating the following slow, controlled movements:
- Drawing your chin down to your neck then raising it back up again until your eyes look forward.
- Moving your head side-to-side while keeping your shoulders level.
- Rotating your head left and right without rotating your shoulders or spine.
If you integrate these exercises into your routine throughout your day, you can strengthen your neck, relieve stiffness and prevent pain. They’re not something you have to go to the gym for: they’re simple, non-load-bearing exercises that you can do whenever you’re sitting comfortably.
You should also address other factors that may be contributing to neck strain, such as the height of your desk, the angle of your screen or the type of pillow that you sleep on.
If you’re feeling neck pain that isn’t going away by itself, feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7093 3499, and I’m always happy to answer any questions you have.
Sports and Spinal physiotherapist