11 Ways to Head Off Neck Pain

Many diverse factors contribute to neck pain, including car accidents, stress, strain, poor ergonomics, arthritis, smoking and more. Take these steps to prevent or treat discomfort.

Many factors, such as poor posture, repeated work, heavy bags, long-term driving, and whiplash from a collision, can cause neck pain. Neck pain can also be caused by osteoarthritis or smoking. It’s also common for there to be a social and psychological component: a job that you hate, anxiety or depression, insomnia, and tension in the muscles. This is a real pain! There are steps that you can do to assist.

11 Ways to Head Off Neck Pain

1. Drive Right

In a car, adjust the head restraint so that it sits as near the top of your head as possible—no lower than three inches below the top and no farther than three inches from the back of your head. New regulations for front-seat restraints require a space of no more than 2.2 inches from the back of the head. Many people call these restraints “head rests,” but they are there for safety, not comfort. They’ve been mandatory in front seats for many years. Most cars now have them in both the front and back seats.

2. Work on Posture

Check your posture by standing in a relaxed position with your back flat against a wall; your head and shoulders and buttocks should rest easily against the surface. Think tall and stand tall. Push up against an imaginary weight on top of your head. Another posture improver: pull your shoulder blades back while walking or sitting.

3. Adjust Your Computer

Thrusting your chin out as you work at a computer can lead to neck pain. When using a computer, make sure the center of the screen is slightly (10° to 20°) below eye level. If you have to bend forward to read the screen, move it closer, enlarge the type size, and/or consider a new eyeglass prescription. Laptops are especially likely to cause neck strain. If you tend to hunch while using a mobile device, do this stretch: Sit up and look straight ahead; turn your head to the left and look over the Hold the left shoulder for 5 seconds, and then let go. Repeat on the right side.

4. Snooze, Don’t Lose

Sleep on your side, not your back or stomach. Make sure you choose the correct size pillow. Sleeping on a too-thin or too-thick pillow can contribute to neck pain. In particular, don’t sleep on a large pillow that pushes your head up.

5. Find a Point of View

Make sure your head is in a comfortable position when watching TV or a movie. Try not to doze off with your chin on your chest, since this position leads to neck pain.

6. Bike Better

Avoid neck strain when cycling. Make sure your bike fits, with seat and handlebars adjusted to your height. A bike on which you can sit upright is easier on your neck than a racing bike. You’ll enjoy the scenery more, too.

7. Lighten Your Load

Avoid lugging a heavy shoulder bag or backpack. Only carry what you absolutely need. For greater comfort, choose a shoulder bag with a wide strap. Also, look for a backpack with extra padding at the straps, and wear the backpack on both shoulders. Adjust the straps on all bags, so they don’t hang below your waist.

8. Avoid Phone Crunch

Don’t use your shoulder to cradle a phone, especially a cell phone. Use a headset or turn on the speaker.

9. Stretch Out the Kinks

With your doctor’s permission, try these exercises. Upright row: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, hold weights in front of thighs (palms toward thighs). Slowly pull them up in a straight line close to your body, until they reach the middle of your chest and your elbows point up and out. Keep shoulders down and elbows slightly higher than weights throughout. Slowly lower; repeat 10 times, for 2 or 3 sets. Lateral raise: Hold weights at your sides at thigh level. Slowly lift them out to the sides until horizontal; keep elbows slightly bent. Slowly lower; repeat 10 times, for 2 or 3 sets.

10. Give Yourself TLC

Neck pain usually goes away by itself in a few days. Try over-the-counter pain relievers, along with heat or icing. Do what feels best. Liniments and rubs have never been shown to be useful. Gentle massage may help. If you don’t improve in a few days, or if the pain gets worse, see a doctor. You may benefit from a referral to a physiatrist, osteopath or physical therapist. Such specialists can recommend further treatment and evaluate your posture and help pinpoint the cause of your neck pain.

11. Whip Whiplash

A type of neck sprain or strain, whiplash usually occurs in a rear-end collision, when the torso is pushed forward by the impact and then jerks back, “whipping” the cervical spine. Neck pain and stiffness are usually the first symptoms, though headaches, dizziness, arm pain and other problems may occur. The first line of treatment is to take a pain reliever and return to normal activities. Cold or hot packs may relieve pain. If you seek medical help, keep in mind there is little solid evidence for one treatment over another. Massage or steroid injections may help. A cervical collar that immobilizes the neck can slow the healing process. The majority of people will recover within four to six week.

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