DR SADIYA VANJARA speaks about the reasons behind neck pain and the solutions for reducing it.At any given point in time, our neck muscles, which are also known as the postural muscles, are predominantly contracting (being used) to take the weight of the head.
Neck is made up of seven bones (vertebrae) stacked one on top of the other. The vertebrae are cocooned in discs of cartilage and held together with ligaments. The muscles that are attached to these structures provide movement and additional support.
The neck is very mobile, as it was designed to service the eyes. There are several causes of neck pain, some of which are arthritis, poor posture or trauma.
Causes of Neck Pain:
Placing your neck in the most comfortable positions may not be the best thing you may be doing to it’ structures. Namely it’s vertebrae, muscles, ligaments, arteries, veins and the nerves that pass through them.
Slumped posture or sitting in a slumped manner for long hours (in front of the TV, on the couch, using laptop in your bedroom, excessive of digging of heads in tablets while travelling, etc) can cause more harm than you think. By doing so you end up elongating one side of your neck muscles and shortening the other. This, if repeated over days to weeks to months can cause slow repeated trauma and (physical)stress, which may eventually lead to wear and tear. It may even end up in a slipped disc in the neck region.
While it’s a common belief that a muscle can be sprained only in young adult who hits the gym, you will be surprised to know that we have children as young as 5 years of age who come to us with a sprained muscle or ligament. Basically any movement which is done with a jerk or unfortunately takes place in a wrong angle and position, can end up in a muscle or ligament sprain of that area. Lack of muscle tone (due to lack of exercise) can also give make the muscle more susceptible to injuries.
Inevitable aging process:
Aging alone can be a single-strong cause for acute neck pain turning into a chronic one. As we grow old, the vertebrae loose it’s density because calcium levels drop. The muscles lose their mass, the discs lose their water content. And blood supply to everything gets reduced because the arteries and veins also start to shrink.
It is commonly believed that a ‘slipped disc‘ occurs only in the Lower Back Region. In fact some people are not even aware that ‘slipped disc’ can occur in the neck region too. It is for the obvious reason that there are discs in the neck region as well; therefore it has all the chances that it can be slipped! Unfortunately slipped discs of the neck region may actually turn out to be worst that in the lumbar region. This is because in the back , a slipped disc will only impinge on nerve, but in the neck region it may impinge a nerve or a blood vessel, or both. Depending on what is impinged, the symptoms may occur. An impinged nerve may give pain, tingling, numbness. Whereas a an impinged blood vessel may make the shoulder, arm, elbow feel heavy, or without any strength or the patient may even feel tremors (due to compromised blood supply to the muscles). It can also give rise to Vertigo.
A whisplash injury in the past, or a traffic accident, or a fall or a fracture (even a hairline fracture) in the past can play a precipitating role in neck pain. Neck region is the region which takes the most amount of hit during road journeys. Also, people who carry heavy loads on their heads as a part of their profession are more vulnerable to neck pain.
Preventive Methods for Neck Pain:.
Stretch. Stretch. Stretch.
If have guided right by the desired professional person, then by now you must be equipped with a set of stretches that you were expected to do 2-3 times a day, which eventually have become your second nature (provided you did them regularly!). As I explained earlier, the neck muscles are also postural muscles and their job is to constantly hold the neck upright, which demands a lot of muscle work. These muscles, over time, become shortened. Due to which they can become a primary source of pain and discomfort.
To avoid this, one should improvise on the neck movements and incorporate some neck stretches in their daily routine. Hold a stretch, for example simply using your hand to stretch the side muscle of your neck, hold it for 5 seconds, and repeat 10 times. Do it twice a day. Perform slow, smooth movements. Do it gradually as any quick stretch is more likely to tear a muscle or ligament. You should stop if you feel pain has increased after a few repetitions.
Practice and Maintain Good Postures
Because our muscles keep our head in the correct position all the time, it may cause the muscles to over stretch, tighten, and this may in turn cause pain, swelling and discomfort. Sitting or standing, you need to be sure that your shoulders, hips, ears are in a straight line and there is no forward-chin-poking posture. This may demand some ergonomic changes and improvements at your work place and the desk you use. Angle of the PC, placement of arms, shoulders, wrists matter a lot.
Heat and Cold
What to apply in pain? Often there is a debate whether to apply heat or cold when there is a episode of pain. Well it depends on suits you. Scientifically, documented facts state that ice should be applied in the first 48-72 hours of acute injury. Post which heat is preferred. But some patients respond better to ice even if their problem is chronic.
Minimise Gadget Usage
Excessive usage of phones is taking a toll not only on human body but also in human mind. It is all over the news and we all know that by now. But how much of it do we take seriously. Unless we ourselves are afflicted by pain or discomfort or discrepancy, we think it can never happen to us. That’s where the importance of prevention comes into the picture. Use speaker phones, or any hands free if you know your work profile demands for you to be on the phone all the time.
Strengthen your neck muscles
Any muscular injury will demand for strengthening at one point or the other. Then whether you are taking pain killers on stage one or whether you have availed the last resort of getting operated (in worst case scenarios). Strong muscles work like a barriers between damaged structures and pain initiation. Exercises, like shrugging, neck rotations, neck free movements, isometric exercises, etc, regularly to improve muscle tone and posture. Get a customized Neck Strengthening Program from your Physiotherapist.
Be conscious of your posture. Sit, stand and walk with keeping muscles and spine healthy, non-over stretch or over-slumping positions. If you know you are going to sit on the PC for long hours then do neck stretches every hour. Try not to sleep on your stomach, which over extends your neck. Combat the muscle-tightening effects of stress with relaxation techniques. Deep Breathing Techniques can do wonders to tight sore neck muscles. Dr Sadiya Vanjara Pain Management Specialist www.sadiyavanjara.com