The neck is the most used joint in the human body — it’s also the most injured joint. In many cases, rest and medication aren’t sufficient to repair the damage. So why does this happen? Neck muscle strain can be a result of repeated movements or maintaining sustained positions. Some examples include:
• Poor sitting alignment while at a desk or computer.
• Working with the shoulders forward which causes the head to tilt back.
• Sleeping in an awkward position.
• Sitting in a car longer than usual.
• Looking up repeatedly – for example: painting a ceiling or computer work.
Seven self-care strategies to empower clients with neck pain are:
1. Stress Relief
– While stress will aggravate neck pain, relaxation can ease it. Suggestions for accomplishing this feat include deep abdominal breathing, meditation, visualization and other relaxation techniques.
2. Frequent Breaks – Even though sustained positions foster muscle tightness, this practice is deeply ingrained in our culture. If driving long distances or working long hours in one position, make sure to take frequent breaks. Breaks are best used to stretch, breathe deeply, take a sip of water and return to proper posture.
3. Exercises and Stretches – While some must be prescribed by a physical therapist, a massage therapist can suggest exercises and stretches for the neck as long as they don’t cause pain. Exercises and stretches help reduce pain by restoring muscle function, optimizing posture to prevent overload of muscle and increasing the strength and endurance of the neck muscles. These can include shoulder blade rolls/squeezes/shrugs, cervical extension/flexion, rotation, stretching the front wall chest muscles, strengthening the shoulder muscles and isometric exercises.
4. Hot and Cold Therapy– Most practitioners suggest alternating heat and cold to help a stiff, painful neck. Reduce inflammation by applying a cold pack for up to 20 minutes several times a day. Alternate this approach with heat, either a warm shower or a hot pack, for up to 20 minutes. Heat can help relax sore muscles, but it can aggravate inflammation if the area is red, warm and swollen.
5. Evaluate Ergonomics – Adjusting home or workplace conditions to relieve unnecessary neck stress can go a long way in preventing cervical discomfort. This includes proper positioning of a desk, chair, computer and phone so the screen is at eye level, knees are slightly lower than hips, arms rest comfortably on armrests and the neck is in a relaxed neutral position while on the phone.
6. Sleep Deliberately – Since a lot of neck pain can arise from poor positioning during sleep, deliberately planning a sleep position can prevent a painful neck. Avoid sleeping on the stomach and use a pillow that supports the natural curve of the neck. Back sleepers are advised to use a rounded pillow (neck roll) under the curve of the neck, with a flatter pillow cushioning the head. Side sleepers should keep their spine straight by using a pillow that is higher under the neck than the head. The goal is to prevent overnight neck flexion.
7. Sock and Tennis Balls – A simple homemade device can be used for self-administered cervical acupressure. Put two tennis balls in a sock and tie off the sock so the balls are stationary. Place the tennis balls under the occiput so they are pressing on the hollows under the skull on either side of the spine for about 10 minutes. Lying on this device can help relax taut, posterior neck muscles.
Mara Nicandro NMT, Nctmb has been practicing since 2004, Neuromuscular Therapy treats the underlying problems that most of us experience with chronic pain. For more information www.nmtforhealth.com
Contribution Mending Hands, Nicole Cutler