Neck pain is an increasingly common problem in today’s sedentary world where we spend long periods of time seated looking at a screen. I have just finished a long course of study and those many hours in front of a laptop lead to intense stiffness and discomfort in my neck and shoulders. What causes neck pain?
Firstly, our posture. Your head weighs 8-10 pounds and makes up 8% of your body mass. Your head is balanced on top of your spine and feels weightless when you are sitting or standing straight. But for every inch the head moves forward its weight doubles due to gravity. The muscles have to work hard when your head is in a forward position; reading from a screen is a good example. This leads to muscle tension and neck pain follows.
Secondly in our quest to get things done we ignore twinges and stay in awkward positions for hours. Our postural muscles are actually working quite hard and just like our leg muscles when we run, they get tired. Blood circulation is impaired which leads to less oxygen reaching the working muscles and also a build up of waste products. The result – fatigue and stiffness.
We may also be feeling stressed especially if we have a hectic and busy schedule. Stress hormones are released in the body which should be a good thing because originally these hormones readied us to fight danger or to flee from it. But so often in our modern world we just sit there and fume while the hormones course around our bodies. Our muscles ready themselves for the physical activity that never comes. Our shoulders rise and we start to get that hunched look.
Now we are suffering from neck pain and the tops of our shoulders are starting to ache too. What can we do about it, and how can we prevent it happening in the first place?
Better posture can be achieved by sitting correctly and not poking your head forward. Have your work station assessed and make sure everything is in the best position to support your body. A regular eye test is important as peering at a screen doesn’t help.
Take frequent short breaks and move around, every twenty minutes is good. Head and shoulders circles are great if you can’t actually get up. Moving static muscles and joints really helps ease stiffness and gets the circulation going.
Dealing with stress is difficult so time management is key. Plan your day and make sure you get out at lunchtime and go for a walk. Drop your shoulders and move your arms and upper body. Taking exercise will help get rid of metabolic waste products stored in the muscles and fresh air and a different environment will promote calmer feelings. Going for a run or attending an exercise class are also excellent stress busters.
One final tip which helped me a lot – heat! You can use a hot pack on your sore muscles which will help to relax them. A good old hot water bottle or a micro-wave able wheat bag are effective, also a warm bath or shower.
Most people will suffer from a sore neck from time to time but it is important to ensure that this remains short term rather than becoming a chronic problem that requires treatment.