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What Can I Do To Help Ease My Neck Pain?

18th April, 2012

Levator Scapulae Stretch modifiedNeck pain is a common problem affecting around two thirds of people at some time in their lives. Anyone can suffer from neck pain at any age, however, it is most prevalent between the ages of 40 and 60. In the United Kingdom, about 15 per cent of hospital-based physiotherapy referrals are for neck pain alone.

Most mechanical, uncomplicated neck pain can be triggered by a number of things including sitting badly, poor posture, anxiety, stress, neck strain, occupational or sporting injuries. These areas can be addressed and managed by yourself to some extent.

If you have neck pain, the first step is to be properly assessed by your primary care provider such as your Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, Osteopath, GP or musculoskeletal specialist. If you require treatment from one of these specialists, it will be appropriately tailored to your case.

The outcome of these assessments and examinations is to determine that the episode of neck pain is non-specific and not due to a more serious cause.Test's such as X-rays or scans may be indicated if there are more serious underlying causes suspected.

Simple self-help strategies

If your neck pain is mechanical in nature, there are some immediate things that you can do to help. These simple self-help strategies in combination with a few days of relative rest, are often enough to reduce an episode of neck pain.

  • See your GP for appropriate pain relief such as painkillers and/or anti-inflammatories (these may help reduce swelling and inflammation of the affected area).
  • Avoid strenuous and aggravating activities.
  • Stay as mobile as possible and continue your daily activities as normally as you can.
  • Ice or heat (see our previous Blog for more information).
  • Gently massage the muscles either side of the spine at the base of the neck for approximately 1 minute. Work from the hairline downwards. You can always gently heat the sore muscle first to reduce tension e.g. using a heat pad, having a warm bath or shower.
  • Relaxation – stress can make neck pain worse. When finished massaging drop your hands to the side and relax. Breathe gently in and out allowing your breath to go down to your abdomen. Do this for about ten minutes until you feel relaxed. Deep breathing helps reduce anxiety – a contributor to neck pain.
  • Stretches - stretch your neck muscles gently by bending your head forwards taking your chin towards your chest. Do this gently several times. Then turn your head first looking over your right shoulder and then your left. Take your right ear to your left shoulder, then repeat on the opposite side. Repeat this several times.

With any of the above movements don't allow them to cause pain, only stretch your neck muscles far enough to cause a mild stretch sensation. If any of the exercises make you feel dizzy then stop doing them and consult a health professional.


Ergonomics and Work Station

It is worth checking the height of your desk at work and at home- if it is too low then your head and neck may be bent forwards for prolonged periods, resulting in overstretching neck muscles and other structures. If you use a computer regularly it is also important to have the desk, chair and screen at the correct height. An ergonomic assessment may be appropriate to check that your workstation is set up correctly and alterations can be made using items such as reading frames/laptop stands.

Other ways to prevent neck pain and maintain good posture can be to have a reading frame to rest books on if you do a lot of writing or reading

Prevention Of Neck Pain

Alongside any advice to ease neck pain when it occurs, there are a few things that you can do to avoid an episode occurring. Good neck care can greatly reduce your risk of getting neck pain. The main points to consider when looking after your neck are:

  • Keeping mobile
  • Regular exercise - walking and swimming are particularly beneficial
  • Try to keep your stress levels to a minimum
  • Maintain good posture throughout work, rest and play
  • Ergonomic assessment of your work station if possible

 
Avoid

  • Slouching in chairs
  • Driving in hunched positions
  • Sleeping on a sagging mattresses or poor pillow
  • Generally overdoing it
  • Prolonged rest

If you do have a more complex or persistent neck problem that lasts for more than a week or two, seek advice from a medical professional who will be able to recommend appropriate treatments and refer on for further investigations if required.

Contributing Authors:
Shelley Doole DC MChiro
 

References

Arthritis Research UK (2011) Neck Pain. Arthritis Research UK. Accessed 10th April 2012 [Online] http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/conditions/neck-pain.aspx

Binder, A. (2005) Neck Pain. American Family Physician, 71(1), 117-118

Mäkelä M, Heliövaara M, Sievers K, et al (1991) Prevalence, determinants, and consequences of chronic neck pain in Finland. Am J Epidemiol,134:1356–67.

Cote, P, Cassidy, D, Carroll, L. (1998) The Saskatchewan health and back pain survey: the prevalence of neck pain and related disability in Saskatchewan adults.Spine, 23:1689–98.

Disclaimer: The information within this blog is in no way intended to replace the professional medical care, advice, diagnosis or treatment of a doctor. Answers to specific problems may not apply to everyone. If you notice medical symptoms or feel ill, you should consult your doctor. If your symptoms do not seem to be improving seek medical/professional help immediately.