More than 50 percent of the American population experiences neck pain every year. It’s on the short-list of diagnoses that cost our health care system billions of dollars annually and in some instances, can end up becoming a major financial strain for the patient.
Fortunately, formal treatment for neck pain is readily available from a number different disciplines and clinicians. A national survey of polled physical and massage therapists, chiropractors and orthopedic spine physicians revealed that patients seeking treatment for neck pain may make up as much as 30 percent to 40 percent of a health care practitioner’s caseload.
Most cases of mechanical neck pain are benign in nature and rarely leave a patient with any noticeable or lasting deficits, negating the need for a supervised course of care. Furthermore, a bulk of these cases can be mitigated simply by changing just a few of your daily habits.
So if you have pain, read on to see some of the ways you can modify your activities and keep your neck healthy.
Avid readers beware, the position you’re in could be hurting your neck. Reading while lying down with your head propped up on a pillow and chin tucked to your chest puts stress on sensitive cervical structures. Instead, try sitting upright with pillows on your lap to support your arms and keep the book at eye-level.
Sitting at a keyboard is a notorious cause of neck pain. Make sure your seat is close enough to the monitor so that you can see the screen easily. Avoid leaning towards the screen and squeeze your shoulder blades together every ten minutes or so. This will help keep you in good posture.
Hold the phone – literally. Craning your neck over to your shoulder to trap the phone is a major cause of cervical spine dysfunction and pain. This is especially true of people who have longer necks, and typically for women moreso than men. If you have neck pain, invest in a headset or resolve to be good to your neck by holding the phone.
Your pillow may not be supporting you like you think. A vast majority of the pillows available for purchase at home stores are poorly made. The constitution of the pillow thins over time, causing the pillow to lose structural integrity. A quick remedy for this is to roll up a thin towel and place it at the bottom of the pillow underneath your neck. It will help to maintain optimal cervical alignment through the night.
Be careful reaching overhead. Over-extending your arms to reach or lift items overhead could strain delicate cervical ligaments or result in a disc bulge. Poor mechanics often lead to pinched nerves, headaches and pain with neck rotation. If you have a job or a hobby that requires overhead lifting, purchase a step stool and move as close as you can to the target.
If you’re firmly pressed against your car’s steering wheel, your neck could be craned into extension. Almost invariably, excessive or prolonged extension leads to pain. Adjust your seat up or down so that you can push yourself away from the wheel yet still reach the pedals.
Gloucester resident Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He writes “On the Mend” weekly. Questions may be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.