By Rojeh Melikian, MD
Orthopedic Spine Surgeon. DISC Sports & Spine Center
Neck pain is one of the most commonly reported causes of discomfort, with up to 65 percent of adults experiencing it at some point. While some people are able to identify what it was that caused the pain, such as a car accident or turning your head the wrong way, most are unable to identify a single event that brought on their pain. Often times, some bad habits we’ve picked up along the way are to blame for our neck pain. Most of us don’t even think about them but, nonetheless, they are working in the background to wear down our necks over time and cause pain. Presented here are some of the most common causes which are within your control to change:
Your mother wasn’t lying. Proper posture does matter. The recent tech phenomenon of laptop computers, iPhones and tablets has led to the development of “text neck.” We’re spending more and more time with our necks tilted forward and down to look at our phones or computer screens. From a mechanical standpoint, this places increased stress on all the muscles that run along the back of our necks and shoulders—those responsible for holding our heads in position. As these muscles are forced to work harder and harder for extended periods of time, it’s no surprise that, at some point, you’ll develop neck pain and spasms. Try keeping your computer screen or phone at eye level to avoid having to look down at these items.
Purses and Backpacks
Carrying heavy purses or backpacks is another way in which you can easily impart increased stress to your neck muscles. Slinging heavy bags over your shoulder will inevitably place an increased work load on your neck and back muscles when your body tries to carry the extra weight and keep itself balanced as you move forward. This can be made worse by purses or back-packs with narrow straps, as that concentrates the weight on a smaller area of your shoulder. Try lightening the load inside your purse or backpack to minimize the amount of strain you place on these muscles.
Smoking has a well-known correlation with chronic neck pain. Similar to the way it hardens your coronary arteries and causes heart disease, smoking also affects the vessels which supply blood to the bones and discs in your neck. When these vessels are constricted, the reduced flow of blood can accelerate the natural tendency for discs in your neck to degenerate and lose their water content. Our discs function as shock absorbers between the bones, and if they prematurely degenerate, you may be left with bouts of neck pain as a result. While it may be one of the most difficult things to do, stopping smoking can limit the extent of damage it causes to the blood supply to your discs, among other health benefits.
Similar to how poor posture can impart increased stress to your neck during the day, improper sleep positions can do the same at night. Avoiding positions where your head is excessively off to one side or another is a good idea. Having too many pillows will cause your neck to bend forward too much, having too little will cause your neck to bend backwards. The ideal pillow height places your neck in neutral position and will be different from person to person. Sleeping on a soft mattress is also likely to place your neck into a compromised position while you sleep. A nice, firm mattress is more likely to help you maintain neutral neck posture.