Do you have a pain in the neck? Suffering with aching and stiffness? Can’t turn your head when reversing your car as much as you used to? Wake up in the morning feeling sore and headachy? Get stiff across your shoulders? Pain coming down your arm?
Neck pain and stiffness is a very common problem. You’ve got to feel sorry for our poor necks – they have an awful lot to deal with. Heads weigh a lot (even if you’re not terribly brainy!) – around 5kg! What’s more, the lower neck is braced by the big muscles across the shoulders, and the upper neck is similarly limited by the powerful muscles under the base of the skull. This means that the majority of neck movements focus in the mid-neck (the 5th and 6th cervical vertebrae) – and unsurprisingly, that’s where many people suffer “wear-and-tear” problems.
Add to this the strain modern life tends to put on our bodies; the tendency for our shoulders and heads to be positioned forward of where they should be thanks to the daily postures of desk-work, driving, etc., and the poor old neck really has it’s work cut out! Did you know that:
- for every one inch your head is forward of neutral, it adds an extra 4.5kg of weight to the spine?1
- a forward head posture can negatively affect your lung capacity, by as much as 30%?2
- it has also been shown to negatively affect digestive function?2
Try this test of neck strain:
- Look at a fixed point in front of you.
- Now bend your head forward – you’ll end up looking down
- Then bring your face up so you can see the fixed point again
– feel how much pressure that puts on the area under the base of your skull? Pressure here commonly triggers headaches. Wow! No wonder poor posture gives us so much trouble!
So what can you do to help yourself?
Here are my top tips:
- Move your neck, to lubricate joints and stretch muscles. Try: chin tucks (great for upper and lower neck stiffness, and posture); ear-to-shoulder drops; dropping your head forward and then turning your head side-to-side; shoulder-shrugs; and, clasping your hands behind your lower back, squeezing your shoulder blades back and down, then raising your straight arms a little way behind you.
- Repeat the above! Regularly! Keep at it, a few every hour, especially if you’re desk-based. There are lots of apps for phone or desktop computer you can download to remind you to take a break and stretch.
- Posture, posture, posture. Lengthen your neck by keeping your chin slightly tucked, pull up from the crown of your head, keep shoulder blades back and down (I can’t promise improvements in etiquette, but thinking about “deportment” will help stave off neck problems!)
- Studies3 show cod-liver oil helps protect joints against arthritic changes, and eases their symptoms.
What can osteopathy do for you?
- Help to rebalance muscles around the neck to ease postural changes
- Ease pain by reducing joint stiffness, aiding blood flow, and taking pressure off nerves
- Look for problems elsewhere in the body that might be affecting your neck (eg. a leg, pelvis or lower back problem can alter the way you carry your upper body, and your neck has to tilt as a result to allow your eyes to be level)
- Give tailored advice regarding everyday activities, exercises, workstation set-up etc. to remove things that might be triggering or prolonging your neck pain.
If you’re suffering, try out some of these ideas today. What have you got to lose, except a pain in the neck?
- Kapandji A, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3. 6th ed. Churchill Livingstone 2008
- Cailliet R, Gross L, Rejuvenation Strategy. New York, Doubleday and Co. 1987
- Cod Liver Oil for Arthritis