5 top tips to sort out that pain in the neck!
Have you ever woken up with a stiff neck and put it down to sleeping awkwardly? Yes, me too. But what about when you’ve had a stiff neck for five days, and it’s the third time in as many months? Surely you can’t just simply put it down to your sleeping position? And now it’s at the point where looking over your shoulder has become an issue – I mean who needs to check a blind spot anyway??!
So what is causing this annoying problem? If we’re not careful, it can begin to affect our quality of life and get in the way of doing things that we enjoy (or that are just plain essential in the case of the blind spot!).
The thing is, there are so many reasons why we could get a stiff and sore neck – it is impossible to attribute it to one cause – it is often a combination of reasons. Sleeping position certainly is one of those, as is the way we sit (how often do we spend sitting looking down at electronic devices or books?). Poor posture has long been cited as a common reason for neck pain – but is it the fact that the posture is “poor”, or is it that we are staying in any one posture for too long? The jury is out on that one, but addressing both is arguably the best option.
So here are 5 top tips for relieving neck pain:
- Avoid sitting for more than 20-30 minutes. This is especially important if you are doing something which involves you looking down or if you are sitting still (e.g. looking at a screen). Our heads are very heavy and by holding our heads slightly forwards or tilted downwards, the muscles at the back of the neck overwork, eventually causing discomfort.
The reason to move regularly is that it replenishes the oxygen to your muscles by getting the blood flowing. Lack of oxygen to your muscles causes something called ischaemic pain, which is completely avoidable by regular movement.
- Sleep on a pillow which supports your neck. Have you ever played around with a pillow in the middle of the night to make it more comfortable? Perhaps bunching it up under your neck so your head feels supported? There are, in fact, pillows that have been designed to solve this problem by providing support under the neck as well as being comfortable for the head. Ask us if you’d like to try one of ours out! I (Lyndsey) use one every night so can wholeheartedly recommend them.
- Gentle stretches. Stretching is something we should all do regularly and is a much better option for relieving stiffness than say, cracking your neck. The crack you hear is simply a bubble being formed inside the joint space, which the body reabsorbs in 20 minutes. So whilst giving your neck a crack (or any other joint for that matter) feels good straight away, the results are short lived and don’t give any long term benefit. Stretching, on the contrary, gives a much better outcome as it relieves discomfort from the muscles, whilst also improving range of motion. It is often that people can’t “feel the right spot”, which simply means you are not stretching the correct muscle for your problem. A Physiotherapist will be able to guide you on this. Neck stretches should be competed regularly throughout any given day and especially during those breaks you’ve now scheduled in for every 20-30 minutes.
- Apply heat. A question we often get asked is: do I apply ice or heat? There’s another blog on this so check it out – but if the pain feels muscular then heat is often your friend. However, if you have suddenly woken up with a very painful neck and can hardly move, then ice may be your best option to settle down any inflammation. By putting one or the other on, you’ll soon find out which you prefer at that time. Apply the heat (or ice) for 10 minutes, then have 10 minutes off, then 10 minutes on again…..repeat as often as is needed.
- See a Physiotherapist. So you’ve tried the above tips and had some relief, but something is still niggling and you can’t quite get on top of it. Or perhaps you have headaches as well, or maybe arm pain or tingling. The best thing to do here is see someone who can assess you and discover what is causing your symptoms – and then complete a treatment programme to address those issues. At Alpha Physiotherapy we are very hands on, so don’t expect to be simply given a sheet of exercises and to be sent on your way. The other great thing is that not only can we get you out of pain, we can keep you out of pain too. Afterall, prevention is better than cure!
So there are your tops 5 tips to relieve neck pain! As with anything you are trying to change in life, continuity is key – so try to make a habit of doing these things as a matter of routine. Setting an alarm can be really useful to remind you to move (it sounds ridiculous but we’ve all sat engrossed in something for an hour or two before realising we haven’t moved). If discomfort has already started to creep in, then it is too late, so if setting an alarm works for you, then go for it.
Do let us know how you get on with the tips – and if you have any questions relating to your problem, get in touch and we can have a chat.