Tasked with the unrelenting job of holding up your head and helping you turn it at will (when it isn’t resting on a pillow), your neck is inherently strong and resilient. While it’s typically up to the task, it’s worth pointing out that this ongoing responsibility is akin to asking your wrist and fingertips to effortlessly prop up a bowling ball — and facilitate its rotation — all day.
Unsurprisingly, neck (cervical) pain is a frequent musculoskeletal complaint, second only to lower back (lumbar) pain. Like any other complex, high-function body part, the seven small bones, intervertebral discs, nerves, muscles, and connective tissues that make up and support your cervical spine are vulnerable to:
While these problems can make your neck stiff and achy, certain daily habits can readily make matters worse. Read on as our expert team at Spine Care of Manassas Chiropractic Center explores six things you should stop doing if you want less neck pain.
Unless your smartphone, tablet, or computer screen is positioned at eye level — and chances are, it’s not — you probably spend much time looking down at your device of choice. Unfortunately, this causes a forward, non-neutral head position that places a significant amount of strain on your neck.
The average head weighs 10 pounds. Your cervical spine supports this weight when your head is neutral (chin slightly tucked, ears directly above your shoulders).
But when your neck and chin are angled forward, and your ears are one inch in front of your shoulders, your cervical spine and supporting muscles are subjected to an additional 10 pounds of gravitational force. A two-inch forward head posture effectively triples the weight load on your neck.
Commonly referred to as “tech neck,” this postural problem is a leading cause of chronic neck pain today. It can usually be corrected with a few mindful postural adjustments if it hasn't already led to deep muscle imbalances.
Slouching when you're seated may be a deeply ingrained custom, or it may be a secondary effect of habitual forward head posture from looking down at a device. Either way, sitting with hunched shoulders and a rounded upper back sets the stage for muscle imbalances — and pain — through your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
To reverse slouch-related neck pain, sit tall through your spine, keeping your shoulders down and slightly back and your chest lifted. And remember to keep your head neutral, too.
Good posture means maintaining a neutral spine most of the time, including when you sleep at night. Viewed from the front, a neutral spine forms a straight line down the center of your body; viewed from the side, it possesses three gentle curves: One at your lower back, one at your upper back, and one at your neck.
Sleep positions that push your cervical spine out of neutral alignment and strain your neck (when it should be resting) include:
Your sleep position could be responsible if you frequently wake up with a stiff, achy neck. Try sleeping flat on your back with a low pillow that doesn't torque the angle of your neck.
Suppose you tend to carry a heavy purse or backpack on one shoulder. In that case, your habit could be taking your spine out of neutral alignment and causing deep muscle imbalances, eventually leading to serious fatigue, tension, and pain in your upper back and neck.
To alleviate the neck pain caused by "handbag syndrome," try lightening your load, using both backpack straps, switching to a cross-body purse, or frequently alternating your bag from one side of your body to the other.
It's worth mentioning that most people "carry" extra mental or emotional stress in their neck and upper back — typically in the form of increased muscle tension and chronic headaches. Simply put, uncontrolled stress is often a significant pain in the neck.
If you're dealing with high stress levels, try to find ways to manage your stressors or reactions to them. Daily exercise and deep breathing can help, as can massage therapy.
If you’ve been dealing with chronic neck pain — or pain that’s persisted for three months or longer — it’s time to seek expert evaluation and care. Besides determining the root cause of your symptoms, we can assess contributing habits, offer postural corrections, address spinal misalignments, and provide treatment as needed.