Ever woken with a stiff, sore neck or a headache and shoulder pain? The neck is often the culprit for aches and pains that occur in our shoulders, jaw, arms and even our hands.
There are many different causes of neck pain, most common are those associated with postural stresses and strains.
Trauma is another key factor for the development of neck pain. This can include serious injuries such as fractures, dislocations, disc injuries, nerve injury, whiplash and concussion associated neck pain, for which physiotherapy plays an important part in recovery and rehabilitation.
The impact of our busy lifestyles, sustained or repetitive postures and the use of digital devices mean that neck and shoulder pain is never far away. The result of prolonged stress in our lives can also be a major factor in the development of pain around the neck and shoulder region.
So how do these factors cause neck pain?
Postural neck pain is often caused by continued tension being placed on certain muscles which then develop muscle trigger points and myofascial tightness in the soft tissues, which can put a strain on both joints and ligaments.
We often have a tendency to change our breathing pattern when we are busy, tired or stressed and this too can contribute to the development of neck pain. This creates imbalances in the musculoskeletal system and often results in pain.
The body is capable of managing a certain load for a period of time, but once it reaches its limit pain and tightness start to develop. Some examples of sustained postures or repetitive postures that can cause neck pain include computer work, factory work, building, mums who are breast feeding or people doing fine hand work just to name a few.
Symptoms can be localised to the neck and shoulder region, but it’s also possible to get headaches that originate from the neck, as well as referred pain that can travel down into the arm and as far as the fingers. Sometimes there can be associated tingling and numbness which can occur in the face, neck, shoulder, arm, wrist and hand regions.
It is not only muscles, fascia and joints that become tight and sore but also the nerves that pass out from the neck and down the arm. This can be referred to as neural tension. In some cases, nerves can be stretched or compressed causing significant dysfunction. Nerves can take quite a long time to recover from damage and must be treated with respect.
How can you help reduce your neck problems?
It’s important to get an assessment done by your physiotherapist to work out what structures are causing the pain and to help identify the likely triggers and look at ways to reduce the impact on the body.
This may include such things as changing the way you sleep at night. A change in pillow or using one good pillow and not two or changing from sleeping on your stomach to a side or back sleeping position can be beneficial.
Reviewing your desk set up at work, or changing the way you move, lift or reach if you have a job that requires these movements can also help.
Breathing can also be a factor. Taking notice of whether you tend to hold your breath when busy or perhaps shallow breathing can cause issues. Try to make your breath out longer than you breathe in. Remember to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Yoga can be very beneficial in this area.
Posture is crucial. Getting a postural check is always a good thing. We often get tight in some areas and weak in others, so postural and strengthening exercises can be very helpful. Common postural issues include the classic poking out of the chin (particularly when looking at a screen), shoulders up around ears, slouched middle back and rounded shoulders.
For those that work on computers all day, including micro pauses in your day is important. Putting a reminder into your computer to take regular breaks and get up and stretch is also helpful.
For people who do repetitive work such as lifting, reaching or working in tight or awkward spaces, then it’s important to try and counter the favoured movement pattern with the opposite movement patterns. This maybe through the use of stretches or dynamic stretches or strengthening exercises.
Exercise, in general, is very good for pain relief. Remember exercise is medicine!
How can Physiotherapy help?
Physiotherapy can help by identifying the problem and formulating a plan of action. Techniques such as joint mobilisation, soft tissue techniques, including trigger point release and myofascial release are normally prescribed.
Acupuncture is also very helpful in the treatment of neck pain and its related symptoms.
Breathing or postural exercises or advice and strengthening and stretching exercises can help build up weak muscles and stretch those that are too tight.
It can take time to change bad habits and to strengthen key areas, so you need to be patient.
If you feel like you have been struggling with a sore neck for some time then book an appointment with us today on 09 378 6890 or email us at [email protected]