neck pain: dos and don’ts

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neck pain

It’s been a week and that nagging neck pain refuses to leave you. Sounds familiar? Now, neck pain can be caused by a wide variety of problems, either local or otherwise, and can range from anything as simple as a muscle spasm, to something as drastic as a heart attack.

Indeed, the most common causes of neck pain include mechanical and postural causes – causes that boil down to a strain on the bones, muscles and other structures within the neck, most often due to poor posture.

when to be concerned?

A quick glance at when to be concerned about neck pain: If you have a fever and headache, and your neck suddenly has become extremely stiff, it could be an infection called meningitis. Neck pain accompanied by shortness of breath, arm and jaw pain, nausea and vomiting may indicate a heart attack. Neck pain that radiates down the spine/to the arms could indicate causes that are affecting the spinal cord, a vital neurological structure that passes down through the neck. Medical opinions are advocated in all such situations.

now for the good news:

There are multiple simple steps that can be tried to relieve pain in the neck . Here they are:

  • Maintaining a good posture – This cannot be emphasized enough! This is simply the easiest way to prevent chronic neck pain.
  • Make a conscious effort to pay attention to your posture – While sitting, irrespective of whether that is at home or at work, while sleeping, while driving, etc. Interestingly, one of my colleagues at work sets alarms/reminders to correct his posture every few minutes, and has reported good success; way better than sending his alarm to snooze mode early morning.
  • Simple exercises to relieve pressure and strain on the structures within the neck – Gently stretch your neck from side to side (slowly look left and hold for 10 seconds, then slowly look right and hold for 10 seconds) or up and down (slowly bend neck back and hold for 10 seconds, then slowly put your chin close to your chest and hold for 10 seconds). Repeat 5 times every hour or so, when sitting for a prolonged duration.
  • Maintain a good overall health and nutrition status – Eat healthy, exercise right, keep track of your regular doctors’ appointments, stop smoking if you do, and consume alcohol in moderation, among multiple other measures.
  • Most importantly, if the pain lasts longer than usual, is more severe than usual, or does not get relieved by the usual measures, make sure to obtain a medical opinion.

Now for the measures that are best avoided, when dealing with neck pain:

don’t let stress levels get the better of you! 

Psychological stress is a known cause of increased perception of pain, and indeed, the presence of pain itself, in the body. Taking measures to decrease stress levels, at home and at work, can go a long way, when dealing with neck pain due to an unidentifiable cause.

Don’t roll your neck – This remains a popular measure to attempt to relieve neck pain, which in fact, does the opposite – it grinds the bones together.

Don’t bend your head to one side while talking on the phone – Again, unnecessary, excessive stress on the neck.

Don’t use hard pillows while sleeping – They force the spine to bend at the neck, and frequently cause neck pain upon waking up. Also avoid sleeping on your stomach – that throws the spine into its natural curvature and keeps the neck turned sideways.

To conclude, a simple take-home messagegood posture, good posture, and good posture! – Maintaining a good posture can prevent chronic/recurrent neck pain in a vast majority of cases. Also, if you are suffering from persistent neck pain, make it a point to get in touch with a doctor or avail physiotherapy services without delay.

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