Chicago Health | Homepage
Turn away from neck pain

Turn away from neck pain

Harvard Health Letters

Neck pain is a nagging ailment that affects everyone at some time. In fact, approximately 80 percent of people experience neck pain during their lifetime, and 20 percent to 50 percent deal with it annually, according to Frank Pedlow, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Besides the obvious problem of physical discomfort, neck pain can trigger headaches and cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arms. You may have trouble sleeping and difficulty turning your head, which can make driving dangerous.

“Recurring episodes of chronic neck pain also can be associated with serious medical problems, including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or infection,” says Pedlow.

If you suffer from constant neck pain, you should consult your doctor to see if it is related to a medical condition. But for everyday pain that comes and goes, there are ways to keep your neck strong, healthy and pain-free.

The neck at work

Your neck has many functions. The neck muscles run from the base of the skull to the upper back and work together to bend the head and assist in breathing. Neck movements are divided into four categories: rotation, lateral flexion, flexion and hyperextension. Rotation is moving the head from side to side, lateral motion brings the ear toward the shoulder, flexion moves the chin toward the chest, and hyperextension tilts the head back.

Most neck pain comes from muscle strains and tension caused by everyday situations; for instance, slouching, poor posture or sleeping with your neck twisted. The mainstays of conservative treatment are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which offer short-term relief. However, first check with your doctor, as they can have side effects, such as nausea and dizziness, and may interfere with other medications.

Besides this, Pedlow also suggests ice and heat therapy. “Ice after an acute injury like a strain helps control immediate pain, stiffness, and inflammation,” he says. Apply an ice pack to the sore spot, 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day, for the first 48 to 72 hours. If the pain lingers, switch to hot compresses or a heating pad, or take a warm shower.

Keeping the muscles strong and flexible by stretching the neck muscles can further help relieve soreness. Other possible treatments are acupuncture and the Alexander technique, according to a study published in the Nov. 3, 2015, Annals of Internal Medicine. Acupuncture uses hair-thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body to trigger physiological processes that relieve pain. The Alexander technique teaches you how to avoid unnecessary muscular tension by improving posture and alignment.

In the study, researchers recruited 517 patients who had suffered from neck pain for an average of six years. They were randomly placed into groups: one group was offered up to 20 half-hour Alexander technique lessons; those in the second had up to a dozen 50-minute sessions of acupuncture. After a year, pain was reduced by 32 percent for the acupuncture patients and 31 percent for those who had Alexander lessons.

Change your habits

One of the best treatments for neck pain, though, is prevention. Lifestyle factors like obesity and stress can raise your risk, so addressing those issues though a proper diet and regular exercise offers protection, says Pedlow. Here are some other strategies to follow:

–When sitting for long periods, like at the computer or watching TV, avoid slouching or sitting with your head tilted forward. Sit straight, with your lower back supported by a pillow or lumbar support, feet flat on the floor, and shoulders relaxed. Stand every 20 minutes and stretch your neck muscles.

–Adjust the computer monitor so the top is at eye level. Use a document holder that holds your work at the same level as the screen.

–Position your car seat to a more upright position that supports your head and lower back. Avoid having to reach for the steering wheel. Your arms should be slightly flexed.

–Cervical pillows may relieve neck stress by supporting your neck when you sit or sleep. Another option: fold a towel lengthwise into a four-inch-wide pad and wrap it around your neck.

–When you read in bed, use a wedge-shaped pillow to support your back and keep your neck in a neutral position.

–Relax your shoulders and tilt your head toward one shoulder until you feel the stretch. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Repeat two to four times in each direction. For an added stretch, use your hand to gently pull your head toward your shoulder.

— Diagonal neck stretch: Turn your head slightly toward the left and tilt your head diagonally toward your chest and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat to the right side. Repeat two to four times in each direction. For an added stretch, use your hand to pull your head forward on the diagonal.

Get your neck checked for arthritis

Age raises your risk of neck arthritis, which affects more than 85 percent of people over 60. As you age, the cervical discs in your neck, which help to absorb shock to the spine, can slowly degenerate, become dehydrated and shrink, which can lead to neck pain. The good news: a study published online Jan. 12, 2016, by Clinical Interventions in Aging found this change tends to slow after age 60.

X-rays and CT scans can confirm a diagnosis of arthritis. Physical therapy is often used to help strengthen muscles in the upper back and neck, which may help with pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers, muscle relaxants and steroid injections also may offer relief. “Still, it is possible to have neck arthritis and not experience symptoms,” says Pedlow.

— Harvard Men’s Health Watch

(C) 2016. PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLGE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Similar Articles

Knee Needs

Knee Needs

ACL and MCL injuries common in athletes By Kevin Sterne Britta Alpen was playing in a soccer game

Home Grown: Growing Cartilage for Knee Repair

Home Grown: Growing Cartilage for Knee Repair

Increased innovation in growing cartilage is slowly changing knee repair By Brett Dworski Our knees are undoubtedly

Count ingredients, not calories

Count ingredients, not calories

By Sharon Palmer, R.D.N. Shift your focus from the calories label to the ingredients label, and

Pneumonia a leading cause of hospitalization for children

Pneumonia a leading cause of hospitalization for children

What Doctors Know Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Pneumonia puts thousands of young children

Cartilage repair, restoration becoming more common

Cartilage repair, restoration becoming more common

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I recently heard about cartilage being used in knee joints. Last summer

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

September 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
August 28, 2016 August 29, 2016 August 30, 2016 August 31, 2016 September 1, 2016 September 2, 2016 September 3, 2016
September 4, 2016 September 5, 2016 September 6, 2016 September 7, 2016 September 8, 2016 September 9, 2016 September 10, 2016
September 11, 2016 September 12, 2016 September 13, 2016 September 14, 2016 September 15, 2016 September 16, 2016 September 17, 2016
September 18, 2016 September 19, 2016 September 20, 2016 September 21, 2016 September 22, 2016 September 23, 2016 September 24, 2016
September 25, 2016 September 26, 2016 September 27, 2016 September 28, 2016 September 29, 2016 September 30, 2016 October 1, 2016

Categories

Recent Comments

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE
Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

A Hazy Shade of Healthcare: What does tort reform

VIEW ARTICLE

Archives