Neck Pain: What Can I Do About It?

Neck pain is one of those conditions that affect most people at some point during their lifetime.  Because of the way we are anatomically built, the neck is particularly vulnerable to injury (it has to hold up an average head weight of 15 pounds (~7 kg) which can be quite a job, especially when we slump or slouch and that weight falls forwards). Injury to the neck can result in minimal symptoms all the way to complete disability, making it one of the most common reasons people see doctors of all varieties for help. Couple neck pain with headaches and now you have a real potential for disrupting lifestyles. With simple causes like poor posture, stress, workstation problems, or long hours at a computer, not to mention anxiety, depression and more, it’s no wonder most of us have needed help for neck pain at some point in time. So, the question remains, “…what can I do about it?”

From a chiropractic standpoint, manipulation, massage and other soft tissue techniques, and several forms of physiological therapeutics (such as ultrasound, electric stimulation, light – low level laser therapies) all work great! But, instead of (or in addition to) things that WE do to you, let’s discuss things we can teach YOU to do on your own. There is a long list of aids that help neck pain that you can self-manage, of which some include: a home traction device, cervical pillows, exercises, posture retraining, stress management, workstation modifications, work / job analysis and subsequent modifications, and more. Most important is that YOU are in control of your own management program. All you need is a little motivation (your job) and proper training (our job). Many of these “self-help approaches” include an apparatus or device of some sort, which are technically coined, “hard durable medical supplies.” More specifically:

  1. Cervical traction units include (but are not limited to) inflatable collars, seated over-the-door traction units, laying on the back varieties, as well as towel traction. The concept here is that you are stretching the neck vertebra apart and if it’s done properly, it should feel good! Don’t do it if it doesn’t feel good or reduce the weight until it does feel good. Another type of traction is placing a fulcrum (dense foam triangle) behind the neck while lying allowing the head to hang off the edge of the bed.
  2. Cervical pillows share the common concept of being contoured to fit the neck and head. These are thicker on the edge so the gap between the neck and shoulder point is filled in so the head is pointed straight ahead. There are many types of contoured pillows including water pillows, foam, inflatable, buckwheat, rice, and other types. However, a word of caution is in order: you may not like it at first as it can take 3-4 nights to get used to it. But, once you do, you’ll miss your pillow when you’re not able to travel with it.
  3. Exercises. Place your hand against your head and push into the hand, allowing the head to “win” as you move through the full range of motion (forwards, backwards, sideways, and rotation). Don’t forget stretching, other strengthening exercises, and fine motor control exercises are important as well. We’ll have to pick this topic up again in the near future.
Author
Dr. James Sheehan Dr. James Sheehan is an expert in the treatment of neck and back pain.

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