Neck pain is prolific throughout office working populations; whether it be a random onset of short term acute pain, or an ongoing ache present around the neck, it seems to be the ubiquitous complaint. But why exactly do we get neck pain when we have done relatively little to cause it? This blog will countdown the top 5 causes for neck pain:
There’s a huge correlation between the type of clientele we treat at PhysioMotion for neck pain and the number of hours spent on a computer or mobile device. With long hours hunched over a laptop or staring down at a smartphone, it causes tremendous strain on the long muscles used to support our neck ‚Äì our heads weigh a lot!
A classic response to the word “posture” is to see your audience suddenly pin their shoulders back, brace their abdomen, hold their breath and make their spines rigid in an attempt to “correct” themselves. This is a severe over-correction, and not what your body wants ‚Äì it will most definitely result in increased discomfort if sustained. Our spines are meant to have gentle curves, to move freely, and be supported by balanced musculature – remember that!
With many individuals maintaining a slightly forward or flexed position of the chest and head while working on laptops or the like, it can cause tightness in the posterior neck muscles that are having to work doubly hard to support your head. There are some common ways to immediately reduced this pain:
- Use your back rest ‚Äì No chair is perfect, but they have backrests for a reason. Relax into your chair. Allow your shoulders to drop from your ears by supporting your forearms on your desk. Feel comfortable while sitting, not lurching forward over your desk.
- Bring everything a bit closer ‚Äì Overstretching for your mouse and keyboard, or to read small text on your screen can feed into that pain in your neck. A more relaxed arm position will reduced the strain on your neck.
- Pull your chin back ‚Äì Lots of individuals adopt a “poking chin” posture where the muscles in their neck are overstretched. By strengthening those muscles with “deep neck flexion exercises”, it has been shown to reduce neck pain and offload those irritated structures.
2. Reduced Activity
Our bodies were made to move. Maintaining a single posture for 8 hours a day, which most desk-based work will require, is not healthy for our muscles or joints ‚Äì movement is how joints lubricate themselves and get the essential nutrients to maintain their health.
By keeping your neck, arms and chest in the same position while working at a desk, we stiffen up and our muscles waste; it then becomes harder to maintain our head position, move our limbs and subsequently increases the force on these sensitised neck structures.
An easy solution to this: Do more activity! Head to the gym after work, begin running or cycling to work, go for a walk in your lunch break, stand up and stretch every 45mins. Keep your neck mobile!
Stress and Anxiety wind up our “Fight or Flight” mechanisms in the body, resulting in a release of a hormone called Cortisol. This hormone puts our physiological radar into overdrive, being aware of any pain stimulus and greatly amplifying those signals. Those that are in stressful situations can report exaggerated pain responses to non-threatening stimuli.
It may be an idea to see whether your neck pain is related to an upcoming deadline, increased pressure at work or lengthened working days. Your neck pain may actually be your body providing a physical output or manifestation for this increased mental stress. Naturally we increase the tension in our shoulders during these stressful times, and due to their close affinity with our neck, it can cause localised pain and discomfort.
4. Shoulder or Thoracic Sources
As mentioned earlier, the shoulder and back muscles have a close affinity with the neck, and can often be a source of referred pain. Often, our patients will complain of tension headaches or migraine-like symptoms that are replicated when pressing a certain point on their back.
There can be knots and trigger-points throughout the spinal and shoulder muscle complexes which radiate up into the neck when palpated. These can arise naturally, but can also indicate a source of weakness.
Having a strengthening and flexibility program for your back and shoulders have helped a lot of our patients improve their neck pain. We recommend trying a few of the following exercises:
Rowing (either weighted or stationary trainer) – Be sure to check out our earlier blog about correct rowing technique here! (hyperlink)
- Posterior Deltoid strengthening
- Weighted shoulder shrugging +/- Kettlebells
- Lateral arm elevation above head + weight
- Pec stretches
5. Other mechanical sources
Sleeping awkwardly, suffering whiplash or a blow to the neck can cause pain and trauma to the area. These do not follow the same rules or guidelines as above, therefore may require further investigation of specific treatment types.
The surrounding structures, muscles and connective tissues in the neck are usually stressed from an impact or other injury, and can take different timeframes to settle down depending on the type of tissue and the extent that it has been damaged.
At PhysioMotion, we always strive to have our patients return to their normal lives by dealing and addressing the sources of this pain rather than just the symptoms. If you would like any help in formulating an exercise plan, having your posture assessed, or seeking any additional treatment for your neck, please do not hesitate to contact us here at PhysioMotion Limited for an appointment today.
Disclaimer: If you have ongoing neck pain for 6 weeks or more, plus other directly related symptoms such as persistent dizziness, double vision, facial numbness, associated nausea, difficulty swallowing/speaking, or fainting, it is advised to have yourself assessed by a healthcare practitioner.