Osteopathic Top Tips To Manage Your Neck Pain
When it comes to neck pain, there isn’t a single cause we can blame. Instead, we see a combination of interacting factors causing this long lasting pain, all of which will be in some way addressed in our Top Tips. These include but are not restricted to:
- The inevitable forward head posture caused by long desk hours
- Changes in physical routines due to the winter season, pandemics and working from home or else
- Not enough, too much or just not-optimal physical activity
- Previous neck injuries
- ‘Natural tendencies’ to store tension and stress in the neck
- Psychological factors like stress, anxiety, uncertainty, fear, worrying and so on
Know your staples before proceeding
Muscles are resilient. Joints, ligaments and discs are very strong. Most often, persistent neck pain is not caused by damage or strain to these structures. Persistent pain results from information being sent by the nervous system to the brain and the brain’s processing of this information. Moreover, your thoughts, behaviours, stress levels and more play a massive role, as you can learn about in our other articles. So, forget the idea that your body is weak and needs rest as it’s often the opposite.
Adopt a variety of workstations
Prolonged sitting in one fixed position will likely put stress on your neck. The solution? Muscles, joints and ligaments all crave movement, so try moving your head around throughout the day! Place your laptop on a high surface and work whilst standing. Once tired, work from your bed or sofa for a bit, then return to your desk before starting the round again.
Move whilst keeping your concentration
You don’t have to compromise on time and concentration when varying workstations! Have a plan so that you know in advance which position you’re moving to next.
Standing allows the whole of our body to play an active role in sharing weight. Your mid and low back are free to move and take up some of the load from the neck; moreover, you'll be able to sway, twist and turn your spine more regularly, getting some of that healthy movement back in. But remember this is no magic… standing too long in one position is also not ideal. Variety is key.
Creative standing desks
Do you need to buy a standing desk? Not necessarily, we have seen great creativity when it comes to recreating this in the home office. Some people have been using their ironing boards at adjustable heights, others have cardboard boxes turned upside down on their tables or place the laptop on a higher kitchen counter.
Posture at our laptops
If you cannot avoid sitting in one place, some neck positions are better than others. A straight neck position will allow you to distribute the weight of the head more evenly through the vertebrae of the neck, reducing the work our neck muscles need to do.
In order to achieve this, make sure your screen is level with the eyes: if too low, use books to raise the level of the screen or sit on a higher chair if the screen is too high up. The neck should not be facing downwards nor upwards, but straight ahead.
It is debatable whether using neck supports is useful or not. We want the neck to be moving more, getting stronger and not reliant on external support. But resting your neck every once in a while can’t do any harm, especially if you're in pain. Although we recommend doing this only after you’ve tried consistently moving more and doing recommended exercises.
To avoid using supports, here are some useful stretches that can provide you with pain relief and you can do at your desk:
- Trapezius stretch: bring your chin to the mid-level of your collar bone on the left, place your left hand on top of your head and gently encourage your chin to get closer to the collar bone by pulling your head downwards - repeat on the other side.
- Platysma stretch: hands firmly holding the top of the chest muscles on the right and chin rolling towards the left shoulder, try getting your chin closer and closer to the top of the left shoulder - repeat on the opposite side.
- Shoulder rolls: roll shoulders forward for a few times and roll them back in a slow, controlled and soothing motion.
- Neck rolls: bend your chin to your chest and slowly roll it to the left and to the right. Avoid extending the neck backwards. Repeat as many times as comfortable.
If you find desk-based stretches endlessly boring, just ditch them, queue up a few of your favourite songs, take a couple of deep breaths to slow down, and start mindlessly dancing to them. Make the dance full body and fluid, try focusing on stretching and moving those areas that feel stiff and sore… quirky, yeah? Just make sure no one is around to make you feel weird, for the rest, enjoy the moment, this will help mentally as well as physically. Repeat as many times as comfortable throughout the day.
If dancing also isn’t your fancy, here is an alternative, the picture is self-explanatory: moving like a chinese twizzle.
Mindfulness has been shown to be an effective tool at reducing stress, anxiety and pain. Mindfulness encourages us to return with our mind to the present moment, to be more aware and less judgmental of the thoughts passing by and reconnecting with our bodily sensation and feelings. When in a state of mindfulness, negative thoughts tend to be less impactful, stress becomes more manageable and our body feels better. Read more in our blog “Why This is the Year of Mindfulness”.
Separate home and work
Home needs to be a place of safety, play and relaxation, whilst work is where we’re asked to thrive and perform at our best. Here are some quick tips to re-establish lost boundaries between home and work:
- Never slip-out of bed and onto your laptop. Make sure to fit between ‘wake up’ time and work a consistent ritual; this may be a slow breakfast, brewing your coffee, taking a morning walk or meditating.
- Likewise, do not end your work day by going straight into your home activities. Before jumping on the sofa or having a meal, have a de-stressing routine to transition from work-mode to home-life. Walk, yoga, workout or anything you like.
- Don’t work whilst doing home-life activities, ie. cooking a meal, eating, doing chores, gardening or tidying, have dedicated times and spaces to separate these activities.
Reshaping your routine
To break the brain’s association between working routine and pain, try to apply some of this tips:
- Take shorter but more frequent walks and breaks throughout the day instead of longer but fewer ones
- Regularly change the positioning of your desk and chair in your office (monthly, weekly or daily)
- Work from a different room or from office - or switch between rooms in the same working day
- In case of particularly stressful tasks, find a de-stressing practice that you can always do beforehand (not afterwards), ie. mindfulness, walk, listening to your favourite song etc.
The discomfort can just be too overwhelming to even start putting all these tips in practice, that’s why seeing an osteopath may be the best option at the start of your recovery journey. Osteopaths are able to soothe pain and improve movement through manual techniques, helping you finally start taking meaningful steps towards recovery. In addition, they’ll collect all the information they need about your work, exercise and lifestyle habits, allowing you better comprehend the impact of all these aspects on your pain.