As desktop computers, laptops, tablets, e-readers, and smartphones take greater importance in our lives, more and more people are consulting with healthcare providers for musculoskeletal conditions like neck pain. Why is this the case, and are there things that can be done to reduce one’s risk for neck pain in today’s modern world?
When using electronic devices, it’s common for individuals to lean forward and/or look downward. When the head rests in front of the neck and shoulders, the muscles in the back of the neck must work harder to keep the head upright. Over time, forward head posture (FHP) can lead to inflammation and injury in the back of the head/neck, shoulders, and upper back resulting in pain and disability. Past studies have shown that up to 60% of neck/shoulder pain patients have FHP, which suggests that taking steps to reduce FHP may have a dramatic effect on the prevalence of neck pain in the general population.
The following exercises can help improve one’s posture, thus reducing the risk for neck pain (they also benefit patients with neck pain):
- Stretch the pects, or chest muscles, by grasping a door jam and rotating your body away.
- Shoulder external rotation strengthening. Lay on your side, elbow bent, and lift/rotate a LIGHT dumbbell toward the ceiling and slowly lower it.
- “Flies”. Strengthen the interscapular muscles by laying prone and raising the arms up toward the ceiling (like you’re flying), squeezing the shoulder blades together.
- Chin Tucks. Tuck your chin and nod the head to strengthen the deep neck flexors.
- Neck Stretches. Pull your neck to the side, look up, and turn toward your pulling hand, followed by looking down and turning away from your pulling hand.
Staying physically active can also reduce your risk for neck pain. In a year-long study involving 367 sedentary workers, those who increased their daily step count by 1,000 steps cut their risk for neck pain by 14%! So, if you work in an office, set a timer to remind yourself to get up and walk around and/or perform the above exercises (at least #4 and #5, which can be done from your seat). Breathing exercises and meditation can also reduce neck muscle tension.
In addition to using manual therapies like mobilization and manipulation to treat patients with neck pain, Pro Rehab Wilmington and Dr. James Sheehan, frequently recommend home exercises like those listed above to improve forward head posture and strengthen the neck muscles to not only reduce neck pain but also to reduce the risk for neck pain recurrence.