Just about everyone experiences some form of neck pain throughout their lives—after all, people are living longer overall lifespans. While most neck issues are temporary occurrences, sometimes they can develop into chronic problems. This article focuses on what causes neck pain and both what you can do at home for it and when you should contact a physician.
What Causes Neck Pain?
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020, many people have shifted to working from home on their computers and phones. These activities can cause people to hold their bodies at unusual angles, with their necks hunched over for long periods of time. Dubbed “tech neck,” this posture can result in neck spasms, creaky neck and shoulder joints, and bad headaches, according to K. Daniel Riew, director of cervical spine surgery and co-director of spine surgery in the department of orthopedic surgery at the New York-Presbyterian Och Spine Hospital.
When people look down at their devices, such as smartphones and computers, especially at more extreme angles, “the muscles in the back of the neck have to contract to hold your head up,” according to Riew.
“The more you look down, the more the muscles have to work to keep your head up. These muscles can get overly tired and sore from looking down at our smartphones, working on computers, or looking down at our tablets all day. That’s what we call ‘tech neck,’” he told the hospital’s online magazine.
The oft-recommended advice of sitting up with your backs straight while at your work desk is actually incorrect, according to Riew. Instead, leaning back into one’s chair (from 25 to 30 degrees back) allows for additional lumbar support, as well as less pressure on the spine’s disks.
There can also be one of many underlying health conditions that can cause neck pain, such as:
- A herniated disk in the spine or degenerative disk disease
- Neck sprains or strains
- Direct injury or trauma to the neck
Neck pain can also be the result of Tension Myositis Syndrome—a state where repressed emotions or psychological distress can lead to mild oxygen deprivation, muscle tension, and pain.
Ways to Deal with Neck Pain
If your work involves sitting at a computer desk, take a few breaks throughout the day and stretch your neck and back muscles. Also, try incorporating a standing desk to provide some posture variation and some neck and back relief throughout your workdays.
Find a quiet location and go relax. Mindful meditation and deep breathing activities can help to refocus your mind, ease the day’s stresses away, and provide you with a different (and more positive) perspective. Focused, deep breathing exercises; rotating the neck and shoulders; and mindful visualization can all relieve tension.
Mindful meditation may also involve guided imagery, such as envisioning your neck pain dissolving and fading away from your spinal column. These exercises don’t necessarily work for everyone, but many people have reported that they’ve helped to alleviate (and even eliminate) their nagging neck pain problems.
Invest in a Water-Based Pillow
Neck pain can be not only annoying to deal with, but many people also report that it interferes with a good night’s sleep. That can make their pain worse when they get up in the morning. When it comes to your choice of pillows to rest your head and neck on, choosing a water-based pillow can be particularly helpful in that regard.
According to a clinical trial conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, sleeping on a water-based pillow resulted in “reduced morning pain intensity, increased pain relief, and improved quality of sleep,” when compared to both a standard pillow and roll pillow. Sleep duration was also increased with a water-based pillow. Water-based pillows can also be adjusted to affect the sleeper’s preferred level of firmness—filling it with more water makes it firmer and filling it with less makes it softer.
Consider a Neck-Supporting Chair
If you’re like many people, you may tend to hunch forward while sitting—this sort of posture can place additional stress on your spine. On the other hand, if you maintain a good posture throughout your day, it stabilizes your head and keeps it in a neutral position on your cervical vertebrae (the vertebrae of your neck).
Certain types of chairs, such as ergonomic swivel chairs (or office chairs) are highly conducive to back and neck support. These types of chairs not only come with a high back design to support your back, but also multi-dimensional, adjustable headrests that you can set up in the way that you feel the most comfortable. These types of headrests can help you to keep your cervical vertebrae properly balanced on your spine without you having to even think about it, just as long as you keep your ears above your shoulders instead of all hunched up.
If you’re one of the many people who work in front of a computer all day, make sure to center your computer’s screen so that it directly faces you. According to Doctor Alan Hedge, you don’t want to have your screen skewed off to one side, since that can cause your spine to twist unnaturally.
Also, be sure to have your monitor at a proper height, so that you’re not looking down at it—your eyes should be 2 to 3 inches down from the top of your monitor’s frame or somewhere within the top one-third of its entire screen space. This will prevent your head from tilting down and putting additional pressure on the back of your neck.