Healthy Perspective by Chris Fissel


Oh, What a pain in the neck!

At some time during our lives, most of us will experience neck pain.  Symptoms can present as local discomfort in the neck, upper back, and across the shoulder blades, but may include headaches and upper extremity pain, numbness and tingling, or weakness.  Causes range from acute injuries, accidents, degenerative changes, disc displacement, and  a host of other pathologies.  The bottom line is that managing these symptoms is your responsibility, and many symptoms can be alleviated or prevented with simple self  treatment and activity modification.

Our advanced technological society has relegated many of us to prolonged sitting.  All too often, the cause of chronic neck pain is related to poor seated posture and sustained compressive forces.  A simple assessment of seated posture to be corrected while at work,  in the car, or even when you return home and flop on the couch after an intense workout can make huge differences in how your neck and back feel.

When assessing pain, your health care professional should gather information regarding pain location, intensity, duration and frequency.  Is it an acute soft tissue injury from overstretching or overexerting, or a chronic problem? Is the pain constant or intermittent, presenting itself with any specific activities or positions? Are there things you avoid doing now because those activities elicit pain? Does it awaken you through the night? Is it getting better, progressively worsening or never changing?

When acute neck pain strikes, begin with the following:

*maintain good posture; allowing the head to droop increases the strain on the already injured tissues

* avoid quick movements of the head and do not roll the head around

* if you know what initially caused the symptoms, don't do that!

*do not sleep with more pillows than necessary; you may benefit from a cervical roll at night

* avoid sleeping on your belly

*do not lie in the bath for any extended periods as this places the neck in an excessive forward position

* heat or ice may be beneficial

As a general rule, pain is your body's warning system, telling you that if an activity produces pain, that activity should be avoided or modified until it can be performed pain-free.  In addition, the sooner the symptoms are addressed, the better your chances of a more rapid recovery.  Often a detailed history and screening of neck mobility/deficits and repetitive motions can reveal the cause of the symptoms and self-management can commence immediately with specific exercise prescription as well as instruction in what, if any, positions or movements need to be avoided temporarily.

Stay happy.  Stay healthy. And sit up straight!

Chris Fissel, MS in Physical Therapy, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, NSCA and Orthopaedic Certified Specialist, Personal Trainer


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