What Causes Neck Pain?
Neck pain, while often the butt of jokes, is no laughing matter. It can affect your ability to perform even minor tasks if left unchecked. Chronic neck pain can significantly impact your quality of life and your ability to do your job. That’s why it’s essential to find what is the reason for neck pain — and seek a fast, effective solution.
Neck Pain Causes
More than 1 in 10 people have suffered from neck pain within the previous three months, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also reports women are more likely to experience neck pain than men.
Understanding the myriad of neck pain causes makes it easier for you to take preventative steps to avoid neck pain. At the very least, you can determine changes you can make to relieve neck pain once you do experience it.
First, take a look at potential causes of your neck pain, then implement concrete steps to reduce or eliminate their impact.
Identify Activities Potentially Causing Your Neck Pain
The fundamental first step in solving your neck pain problem is figuring out what’s causing it. Unfortunately, there are a wide variety of activities that can put a strain on your neck. The more strain you put on your neck, the greater your pain may be. Further, continuing to do the same activities, day after day, can lead to chronic neck pain. One or more of the following common culprits may be to blame for your neck pain.
Having Poor Posture
Poor posture places additional strain on the nerves, ligaments and muscles around your neck. Leaning your head and shoulders forward is a typical example of a poor posture position that can cause neck pain — and it can become a chronic pain problem if you don’t take corrective action.
Much like posture can cause neck pain, so can sitting incorrectly. Slouching in your chair or leaning too far back may cause you to crane your neck forward to participate in conversations or see objects, and are prime examples of what causes neck pain.
Driving in the Wrong Position
If you’re leaning too far back while driving or sitting too close to the steering wheel, you may have to twist and turn your neck at awkward angles to see what’s going on around you on the road. This creates additional strain on your neck.
Traveling by Car, Bus, Plane or Train
Long hours of sitting while traveling can take a real toll on the body. Awkward sitting positions, falling asleep without support and shying away from less-than-familiar neighbors on public transportation can make for uncomfortable travels.
Misusing the Computer
Hunching over a computer for long hours of the day, especially if you work on a laptop, can lead to neck strain and pain as well as tension headaches, exacerbating your neck pain.
Texting All the Time
“Text Neck” is a thing for a reason. When you text, you often tilt your head forward. This motion causes the muscles, ligaments and tendons in your neck to strain to hold your head in position. The result is pain. Because this position is so common among heavy-duty texters, physicians are beginning to see a degeneration of the spine in patients who are much younger than expected.
Using Tablets in Awkward Positions
Tablet users have much the same problem as smartphone users who text. Many people take their tablets to bed and hold their heads in awkward positions to view their device’s screen as well.
While you may have a favorite sleeping position, that position may not be a good match for your neck. In fact, if you sleep on your stomach, you twist your head to the side, which puts pressure on the nerves in your neck. You may experience far less neck pain by shifting from a stomach sleeper to a side or back sleeper.
Using the Wrong Pillows
While no one would like to believe their big comfy pillow is one of the most common causes of neck pain, it can be a prevalent source of neck pain problems. Your too-thick or too-thin pillows can be a source of your neck pain. These can cause you to hold your head at an odd angle, placing added pressure on the nerves in your neck.
Carrying Heavy Handbags or Briefcases
Weighted-down purses and briefcases can spell trouble for your neck — in multiple ways. Huffington Post suggests the following three consequences arise from carrying around heavy handbags:
- First, if you wear your bag over one shoulder, as most people do, it throws off your center of gravity and forces you to compensate — adding strain to your neck.
- Second, you probably carry quite a bit of weight in your handbag. The more weight you’re carrying, the more your muscles strain to hold the load.
- Third, it interferes with your natural gait. This means you’re not walking normally, your arms aren’t swinging, and you’re unconsciously using your neck to try to make adjustments to your stride on the go.
Participating in Sports
It doesn’t matter which sport you’re participating in or whether you’re a weekend warrior or professional athlete. Playing sports presents the threat of injury and subsequent neck pain.
Being Under Stress
Stress is a common cause of neck pain often manifesting in the form of a tension headache. But it also has another effect on your neck as most people tend to tense their shoulders when stressed, causing tightness in the neck muscles.
Having Eye Strain
If your glasses prescription is not up-to-date, you may be leaning your head forward to see better. This, in turn, can lead you to strain your neck, and subsequently cause you pain.
Experiencing Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are not only felt in the head. You can also feel them behind your eyes and in your neck. They are the the most common types of headaches, with some people suffering from them two or three times a month. Approximately three percent of the U.S. population experiences chronic tension headaches, with episodes lasting 15 or more days per month.
Suffering From Whiplash
Trauma is another far too common cause of neck pain. It’s commonly associated with impact car accidents in which the head moves backward then forward with exceptional force. Neck pain from whiplash may be immediate or show up days, weeks, months and even years after the accident.
Take Steps to Address Your Neck Pain
You must root out the reason for your specific neck pain to find the best solution. Once you understand the potential causes of your neck pain, you can begin working to decrease the severity of your neck pain by making the appropriate changes, such as the following.
Choose the Proper Pillow
The best pillow for your neck is one offering support for your neck, such as a curved pillow. It may take trial and error to find your perfect fit, but you’ll enjoy more productive and less painful sleep for your efforts.
Ensure Your Mattress Provides Adequate Support
The general rule of thumb for mattresses is they need to be replaced every seven to eight years. Even if you have a new mattress, though, it could be contributing to your neck pain if it doesn’t offer enough support to meet your needs.
Change Your Sleep Position
Stomach sleepers often experience more neck pain than back or side sleepers. This means it might be a good idea to change your position while sleeping to relieve the pressure on the nerves in your neck. Additionally, if you’re a back or side sleeper who has invested in new pillows and mattresses yet still experiences neck pain, a new sleep position may provide further relief.
Improve Your Posture
There are things you can do to assist you in improving posture, but the most important thing you can do is puff out your chest any time you notice you happen to be hunched. This can happen at a desk, in a chair or when you’re standing in line at the supermarket. Puff out your chest to relieve the strain on your neck — and see what a difference it makes when you look in the mirror and to your neck pain.
Invest in Chairs Offering Neck Support
If you spend a lot of time during the day in one chair, such as an office chair, it is worth the effort to invest in a chair providing adequate neck support. This will reduce neck pain while also supporting excellent posture. It also relieves the strain on the spine, which contributes significantly to neck strain.
Make Ergonomic Adjustments
Adjust the position of your body when you do things like send text messages, operate a computer and sit at your desk at work. The following are three ergonomic adjustments you might want to consider making for the sake of your neck pain:
- Move your computer monitor so it is at eye level and you’re not looking down to see it.
- Invest in a hands-free headset for your mobile phone for texting and talking without neck strain.
- Prop your tablet on a pillow, letting it rest at 45-degree rather than having it flat on your lap.
Update Your Eyeglass or Contact Lens Prescriptions
Outdated eyeglasses prescriptions often result in leaning forward to read, which can place added strain on your neck. If you’re experiencing neck pain, it may be worth your while to check with your optometrist or ophthalmologist to ensure your prescription meets your current vision correction needs.
Adjust How You Sit in the Car
Many people are surprised to discover how they sit in the car can play a crucial role in neck pain and comfort. For instance, placing your headrest at the center of your head can help prevent the back and forth whipping motion that hurts so much after sudden stops. Also, sitting in a more upright position can relieve the pressure on your lower back while adequately supporting your head and helping to relieve neck pain.
Support Your Neck When Traveling
Something as simple as using one of the horseshoe-shaped travel pillows can help to prevent much of the neck strain you experience while on the go. The good news is they travel well and are convenient to use when traveling by car, bus, train or plane.
Carry Weight Evenly
Whether you’re carrying a heavy handbag on one shoulder or multiple packages and parcels, even distribution of weight can have an enormous impact on your neck and the amount of pain your neck experiences. Some options to consider for evening the weight include:
- Carrying packages in both hands
- Using a backpack to carry items so weight is distributed on both shoulders
- Using a cross-body bag instead of a bag that places all the weight on one shoulder
Lighten Your Load
Speaking of bags, it’s time to lighten the weight you carry around every day if possible. Sometimes, it is necessary for your job to carry around a lot of heavy bags. But if that is not the case for you, it might be worth considering switching a large tote for a much smaller crossbody bag that won’t be as tempting to fill up with heavy items. Lighter loads mean less strain on the muscles in your neck.
Exercise to Relieve Neck Pain
Exercises like the turtle exercise, which strengthen the core and improve posture, are ideal for relieving neck pain. You might also consider strengthening and stretching exercises to help you develop your neck muscles without adding bulk. Pilates and yoga offer gentle exercises to help you stretch your neck while strengthening your core making them great choices for people suffering from chronic neck pain to consider, with a doctor’s permission, of course.
Practice Proper Hydration
Whether you realize it or not, adequate hydration is essential for maintaining disk height and spinal alignment, which take pressure off the spine, relieving the pain in your neck. The simple solution is to drink more water if you suspect dehydration may be a contributing factor for your neck pain.
The real key to finding lasting neck pain relief is to limit the neck-pain promoting activities. Doing this will help you enjoy better sleep and better quality of life.
Get a Neck Pain Evaluation at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery
If you’ve taken the above steps to identify potential causes of your neck discomfort and implement changes in your activities but still find you’re experiencing pain, it’s time to find out what’s going on. While the above activities are often a common culprit of neck pain, trauma and progressive spinal conditions can also be the true cause of your neck pain.
Here at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery, we offer an easy and quick, confidential tool to obtain a preliminary diagnosis online based on any previous tests, your medical history and your symptoms. Simply describe your neck pain and symptoms to get started.
Still, the only sure-fire way to determine the ultimate cause of neck pain is to obtain a complete medical evaluation. Schedule an appointment to talk to a specialist and get a complete back pain evaluation with one of our doctors at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery. Our doctor can pinpoint the precise causes of your neck pain and work with you to relieve your discomfort.