How to Help Your Neck Pain

Are you a slave to your i-device?

neck pain

http://cbsminnesota.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/spine-study.pdf

Are you constantly looking down at your smart phone, tablet, laptop during the day? Do you have neck pain? Ever get headaches? Any numbness/tingling down your arms? If so, these tips could help you.

Nowadays, we are constantly plugged in and looking at electronic devices during the day –one of the consequences of this could be a tight painful neck. If ignored, it could lead to nerve impingement, herniated discs, and migraines. So what to do? I’ve listed out a couple of tips that could help alleviate some of the problem and also described some activity modification that will be necessary if you want to prevent the pain from coming back!

1.)    Lifestyle modifications –I’ve listed this as number 1.) for a reason. It’s because if you make no modifications to overuse activities that bring on this pain, you can stretch til you’re blue in the face, but don’t expect lasting results. If your job includes long hours in front of your computer make sure you bring your screen up! Whether it be a smart-phone, tablet, or looking down at your computer screen, all these activities encourage you to look down. Instead of looking down constantly, try to bring the device up to eye level so your neck isn’t in a hyper-flexed position for a prolonged period of time. This tip is important in order to prevent the reoccurrence of neck pain. Look at your own activities and try to identify what movement patterns are causing this pain. This is where physical therapy can really help. They can help you modify and work on muscle/movement imbalances that may relate specifically to you. (see below for a few general exercises)

 

2.)    Mind the position of your neck when you sleep. Do you use multiple pillows at night under your neck? You could be perpetuating this forward head posture, pushing your head up while you sleep. Use just 1 medium-sized pillow to cradle the back of your neck, or a small towel roll under the crook of your neck to support it. Personally, I’m not a big fan of contoured pillows because if you don’t fall asleep in the same position every night, or you move around a lot while you sleep those pillows don’t move with you. Your neck could end up in a worse position before morning, and then you wake up with a terribly stiff neck! Therefore, don’t waste your money. The best positions to sleep in for your neck is either on your back or side with pillows for support. Sorry stomach sleepers, this is the worst position for your neck because you are forcing your neck to be rotated to one side the entire night. Ideally, you want your neck in a neutral position. See example below.

sleep position 2

 

3.)    Postural exercises! Yay! Over time, if you keep your head in a forward head posture you could actually change the length of your neck muscles. Usually with forward head posture comes rounded shoulders as well. This is perpetuated by tight pect. muscles. The muscles along the suboccipitals (back of the neck, where your skull meets your cervical spine) become stretched out and lengthen so it’s hard for you to contract them and therefore bring your neck back. Therefore, we need to strengthen them –here comes the chin tucks! See some postural strengthening exercises below.

Rows – with theraband, strengthen in between your shoulder blades to help you keep your shoulders back.  3 sets of 10 with squeezing shoulder blades together.

exercise rows pic

Chin tuck – 10x with 10 sec. hold (or work your way up to holding for 10 sec.)

chintuck 1   Step 1.) normal head posture -note forward head

chin tuck 2  Step 2.) think of making a double chin (glamorous I know 😉

4.) Neck Stretches – Your strengthening exercises mean nothing if tight muscles keep pulling your neck back to the position it was in. Below are 3 stretches that will help.

Upper trap stretch  – 3x for 30 sec. hold (each side) -Ear to shoulder on each side, with slight over-pressure with your hand. Make sure you are keeping the opposite shoulder down.

UT stretch

Levator scap. stretch, – 3x for 30 sec. hold (each side) – Nose to armpit with slight over-pressure with your hand on the top of your head.

LS stretch

Pect. stretch  -3x for 30 sec. hold – the one shown below is on a foam roller in what I call a ‘touch-down’ position. This is just one way to do a pect. stretch. You can also perform a stretch in a door-way. See below.

foam roller stretch

 

5.)    Modalities to help with pain/stiffness

  • Moist heat as mentioned in an earlier post, helps relax muscles and promotes blood flow to the area. Apply to neck and upper back for 15 -20 min.

hot pack

  • Biofreeze (Biofreeze) – pretty good topical analgesic used to help you with pain in your muscles. You’ll only need a dime sized amount and rub in until it’s absorbed. A little goes a long way. Also, be sure to wash your hands after use!

biofreeze

  •  Kinesiology Tape (Rocktape Kinesiology Tape) – everyone has their own opinion on this kind of tape, but in my experience it helps patients feel better. The thought is that is helps the fascia crinkle and move blood blow to the area. Kinesiology tape is taping for movement, NOT to stabilize or prevent you from moving. It’s supposed to help you move easier. It pretty much feels like a hand is on the back of your neck. See picture below for one type of taping technique for posterior neck pain. Keep tape on for 2-3 days, but not much longer because it can eventually irritate your skin. Make sure skin is clean when you put it on. Careful when taking it off, ideally after you shower, or with the use of baby oil to protect your skin.

neck tape

Rocktape Kinesiology Tape (click to purchase)

– Thera Cane Massager – Self torture device. A way for you to work out some of the adhesions/knots in your upper shoulder and back. You can use this for many areas of your body to work out the ‘kinks.’

theracane pic
t-cane exercise

Thera Cane Massager (click to purchase)

  • Manual therapy – whether that be a massage or if you are going to a physical therapist this can definitely aid in decreasing your pain and improving your ROM in the neck and shoulders. Research is varied on various manual techniques, but from personal experience I can tell you it helps.

massage pic

Word of note: none of these listed above modalities will do a lick of good if you aren’t making activity/lifestyle modifications because the tightness and pain will just come back!

DISCLAIMER – Although I am a physical therapist I am not your physical therapist. Always consult with your PT or health care provider for specifics about exercises and modalities that may be best suited for you. Also, if you have neck pain with any kind of numbness/tingling down your arms, I would suggest a visit to your doctor to rule out nerve related pathology.

Published by

jbotvin

Jessica is a licensed physical therapist currently living and working in NY.

7 thoughts on “How to Help Your Neck Pain”

  1. Hi Dr. JESS,
    The information was clear,along with car helpful photos describing the excercises for the neck. I also liked the clear explanations for the tape and how to use it, as well as the correct use of heat and cold therapies.

  2. I love these tips on how to improve neck pain! I used Biofreeze recently and it has significantly helped with my pain. I can’t wait to try the Kinesiology Tape as well! Can’t wait to read more of your exercise and wellness tips! 🙂

  3. Jessica, help I’m a stomach sleeper! I always find it most comfortable to sleep this way. What do you recommend for me to sleep more properly in this position?

    1. Well first I would say ideally don’t haha. Try sleeping on your side or back at least to start. If that really doesn’t work, I would at least put a pillow under your hips to take your back out of increased extension and maybe even a small pillow under your ankles. Hope that helps!

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