Thanks to the long hours we spend hunched over the office desk and our need to check social media curled up in bed, tech neck has become a serious health concern in these times. According to a study by the National Centre For Biotechnology Information, 75% of the population experiences neck pain at some point in their life. What’s even more alarming is that 5% of the people who complain about neck pain will eventually become disabled.
The human head weighs around nine kilograms. As we bend it forward while working on our devices, the pressure on the cervical spine increases. At an angle of 60 degrees (the exact angle at which our head rests when we work on a laptop or a smartphone), the weight on our cervical spine is around 28kg, which is the equivalent of the weight of a nine-year-old! Imagine carrying a nine-year-old around your neck for over four hours (that’s how much time a person spends on their phone on an average in a day).
This is why neck pain can also be a (metaphorical) pain in the neck. While it’s possible to tend to it at home, we advise you to consult a doctor before starting any form of neck pain treatment. Before we dig deeper into neck pain causes and remedies, let’s get an understanding of the different conditions related to it.
In most cases, the pain goes away in a few days or weeks with a few lifestyle changes, but if it persists, it can be indicative of any of the following underlying medical causes:
Cervical Spondylosis is a condition that causes deterioration of the vertebrae, discs and ligaments in the neck or spine. If you suffer from chronic pain in the nape of your neck, headaches (usually at the back of the head), numbness in arms that may also extend to the legs, it might be due to cervical spondylosis. Here are a few things that might increase the risk of this condition:
Herniated Cervical Disc, also called slipped disc, is a condition in which the gel-like centre of the disc ruptures through a tear in the outer wall. When the gel touches the spinal nerves, it irritates them, thus causing pain. Here’s what causes a slipped disc:
Muscle strain or a stiff neck is a result of the neck muscle weakening over time. Every time you try to turn your head, the neck joint that is now displaced either hits the nerve or pulls a muscle, causing instant pain. A stiff neck can be the result of a number of factors:
Wry neck is a condition in which the head tilts to one side and the chin to the other side, causing debilitating pain in the neck and difficulty in performing everyday tasks. Usually, a wry neck is accompanied by a headache, stiffness in the neck and inability to move the head normally. The causes can be many:
Though neck pain is commonly associated with a dull ache in the neck area, it can also involve one or more of the following:
Although in most cases neck pain goes away with posture correction and over-the-counter medication, seek expert help if the pain or numbness radiates beyond the neck or if you experience unintended weight loss or fever. If you experience sudden pain after an accident or trauma, it might be a medical emergency. Also, seek medical care if the pain starts to interfere with everyday activities.
The neck, because it’s flexible and has to bear the weight of the head, is vulnerable to pain and stiffness. Here are a few common reasons it might be hurting:
One of the most common causes of neck pain is poor posture. This happens when you work on a computer for long hours, prolonged driving, reading while lying down on your bed and spending a lot of time hunching your neck over the phone.
If you wake up feeling a crick in the neck, there’s a chance that you either slept with your neck in the wrong position or with your head on a very high pillow. This keeps the head flexed throughout the night, which ends up causing the pain.
Automobile accidents that result in whiplash (injuries caused by a jerk to the head and neck) strain the soft tissues of the neck, causing severe pain. In some cases, sports and physical activities interfere with the positioning of the muscles and ligaments of the neck, and result in pain.
Many people hold tension in their face, neck and back. Stress, anxiety and depression can cause the muscles of the face and neck to tighten, which can cause pain.
Apart from these reasons, certain infections and medical conditions can also be the cause of chronic neck pain. This includes meningitis, heart attack, spinal tumour, rheumatoid arthritis, viral infection in the throat and tuberculosis.
If self-care and lifestyle changes don’t bring relief, consult your doctor, who in turn may recommend any of the following treatments of neck pain:
Applying ice packs or ice wrapped in a towel for 15-20 minutes several times a day can relieve neck pain to a great extent. You can also alternate this with a heat treatment. Take a warm shower or put a heating pad on your neck and back region for 10-15 minutes.
Your doctor may also prescribe therapeutic massages to loosen up and relax the muscles in your neck and back. The massage will also improve blood flow to the affected region and relieve neck pain.
Though this is not a scientifically-proven treatment, many people have reported getting relief from neck pain with this technique. In this method, thin needles are strategically placed on the body to restore a balanced flow of energy and reduce pain.
Your doctor will design a physiotherapy programme for you that will target the muscles in your neck and back, and reduce pain and stiffness. Physical therapy basically involves exercises and stretches under expert guidance and can last from a few weeks to a few months.
In some cases, the doctor may recommend prescription medicines like muscle relaxants and antidepressants for pain relief. Some common over-the-counter pain relievers are Advil, Aleve and Tylenol.
You can get rid of neck pain by making some simple changes in your everyday life. Before the pain aggravates and becomes the cause of a major discomfort, try these self-care tips to relieve neck pain in the initial stages:
Poor posture can make the upper back muscles weak and tight over time. This puts stress on the cervical spine and in turn causes neck aches. For a better posture throughout the day, follow these tips:
As clichéd as it may sound, staying active is one of the smallest and simplest changes you can bring to your lifestyle. Chronic pain can make exercising difficult, but try to move your neck and body whenever possible to keep your neck in good shape.
Make sure your head and neck are aligned with your body when you are sleeping. Try sleeping with a small pillow under your neck or beneath your thighs in order to straighten the spinal muscles.
Once the pain has subsided a little, try these stretches and exercises for neck pain at home on a daily basis. Note: It is recommended to consult a doctor before you put any pressure on your neck.
Sit straight. Bring the neck towards the right shoulder. Hold the position for 5-10 seconds. Return to the original position. Repeat the same on the other side. Do this for five times on both sides.
Sit straight and look ahead. Turn your head to one side with your chin pointing straight. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Bring the neck back to the previous position. Repeat the same on the other side.
Hold your body straight and push the chin forward, stretching your throat. Stay in this position for five seconds. Bring your neck back to the starting position and push your chin backwards. Hold for five seconds again. Repeat five times.
Q. Why does my neck pain get worse after sitting for long hours at the desk?
A. If your neck pain aggravates after sitting in the same position for too long, you may be suffering from cervical spondylosis. This can also happen if you have long driving hours. Consult a doctor immediately if the pain radiates to the arms and legs.
Q. Can I treat my neck pain on my own?
A. Yes, you can treat your neck pain on your own with a few simple stretches, posture improvement and lifestyle changes. However, if the pain doesn’t subside in a few days, it is recommended to see a doctor.
Q. How long does it take to treat neck pain completely?
A. With physiotherapy and posture changes, you can easily overcome neck pain within 10-15 days. However, if you have strained your neck muscles substantially, then full recovery can take up to a month.
Q. Does physiotherapy help in neck pain?
A. Physiotherapy relaxes stiff muscles of the neck and upper back, improves head and neck range of motion and strengthens the muscles of the affected area. As a result, it eliminates pain and helps in improving neck posture to prevent pain from recurring.
Most of the time, neck pain is harmless and can be treated at home with a few stretches and a healthy lifestyle. However, if the symptoms persist, it is advisable to seek immediate medical advice as it can be the cause of some underlying health condition.
Featured Image: Only My Health
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