Neck pain is a common problem in today’s society, something which I am seeing a lot more of and most frequently in those who sit at a desk or computer day after day. In these cases, the pain they are experiencing is not brought on by an accident, old injury, extreme or repetitive movement. Instead, it is brought on by very little movement!
Sitting still at a desk all day, staring at a computer often results in a postural position which is less than ideal for the neck. The typical pattern I see is rounded shoulders and a chin poke – meaning the chin juts out towards the screen, rather than the head being positioned directly over the neck – the ideal position. Having the head in this forward position places additional strain on the muscles of the neck, front and back, which act as guy ropes to support the head. It is this increased muscle tension which causes the majority of pain in this population, which can develop into headaches and tingling or numb sensations into the arms and hands.
Whilst what you really need is a thorough assessment from a qualified injury professional and an ergonomic assessment of your workspace, there are a few things you can do right now, yourself, to ease your pain in the short-term. Here are my top tips for easing neck pain NOW!:
The most important thing you can do when neck pain starts to set in is to move! Get up from your desk and move around. Go for a walk around the building; nip to the loo; make a cup of tea – anything to get you away from your desk for 10 minutes.Whilst you are up, or if you can’t leave your desk, do some gentle neck range of motion exercises to try to ease muscle tension. Start by looking up, down and over each shoulder a couple of times. Then try a few full head circles, starting right ear to right shoulder, looking down, then left ear to left shoulder, then up and then back to the start. Do this in both directions. Make sure you move at least once an hour.
In addition to the movements listed above, specific neck stretches will further help to ease your pain. Start with a neck flexion stretch (chin to chest), then a lateral flexion stretch (bottom image) and a SCM stretch (top image). All of these muscle groups are often tight in neck pain sufferers. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds and repeat them all twice.
Consider your current position. Without moving, think about how your head, neck and shoulders are positioned. Then do something to correct yourself! Pull your shoulders back and make sure you are sat upright. Tuck your chin in and down and bring your head back, directly over your neck. Try to keep the back of your head in light contact with the headrest on your chair if you have one. If you don’t – change your chair!
Trigger Point Therapy
Active trigger points are often the source of local and referred pain in the neck, shoulder and down the arms. These trigger points develop due to repeated muscle tension. They are easy to distinguish as dense ‘lumps’ within the muscle belly which are acutely tender when pressure is applied to them. They are commonly found in the upper fibres of Trapezius – between the neck and shoulder joint.Trigger point therapy (TPT) is a form of treatment used by massage therapists to help de-activate these trigger points and therefore reduce the pain they are causing. TPT can be applied to the Trapz yourself and is pretty easy to do.To target trigger points in the right Trapz, use the thumb and/or index finger of the left hand to feel around the area for tender lumps or ‘knots’ in the muscle. When you find one, apply as much pressure as you can comfortably bear, without tensing up. Hold this pressure for 10 seconds. In this time the discomfort usually fades considerably. In this case you can then increase pressure and hold for another 10 seconds. Repeat this process for all trigger points found on the right and then do the same on the left, with the right hand.
Warmth is great for easing muscle tension and pain. Keep a small microwaveable wheat pack at work (or a small hot water bottle or similar) and apply it to your neck and shoulders when they are aching. Warm muscles also stretch better so you will get double the benefit when stretching after 10-15 minutes of warmth!
So there you have it! Whilst these are not long-term solutions to your neck, upper back and shoulder pain and we highly recommend a trip to an injury specialist, as well as an ergonomic assessment and home exercise regime, they can certainly help to ease your pain and allow you to get through the day in a little more comfort!