From getting stuck in traffic and burning the midnight oil at work to battling crowds during the holiday shopping season, life is full of pains in the neck. While these common situations can cause major annoyances in your daily life, when you feel an actual real pain in your neck that shoots, dulls or pounds throughout your head, neck and shoulder area, the result can be debilitating if not taken care of appropriately.
To help alleviate neck pain associated with tight and sore muscles, it’s important to understand the reasons that can lead to the pain so you can better treat and prevent the discomfort.
Identifying the Leading Causes
Neck pain is a common condition that bothers many Americans. But according to a January 2012 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention women are more likely to experience neck, face or jaw pain and migraines than men. Overall, 17 percent of adults experience migraine or severe headaches, while 15 percent experience pain in the neck area.
According to Brittany Valdes-Pages, massage therapist at Elements Centennial, the leading causes of neck pain have to do with how you treat your body on a daily basis. Sitting too long, especially in front of a computer, is one of the biggest culprits as you tend to compromise your body’s mechanics by favoring one side over the other. And leaning forward too much can cause neck and eye strain.
Stress associated with overcommitting yourself and not taking time out of your busy schedule to relax and unwind also can cause neck tension and pain, especially when you hunch up your shoulder blades or clench your teeth and jaw area. And, vigorous, repetitive activities such as competing in sports can cause pain due to overworking your muscles and overcompensating for weak muscles in your body.
“I have a lot of clients who sit at the computer all day long and they have a lot of pain in their neck and shoulder areas,” shares Valdes-Pages. “A lot of people carry so much emotion and tension in their muscles that they don’t realize is even there until they start feeling the pain.”
Preventing the Pain
One of the most effective approaches to preventing pain throughout your body, but especially in your neck, is to make a concentrated effort to give your muscles and mind adequate time to relax and recuperate. When you pound your muscles non-stop and never give your brain a chance to unplug and unwind, you are triggering your mind and body to fight back by inflicting muscle pain and strain. To help combat the battle of neck pain, Valdes-Pages suggests the following pain prevention strategies:
- When working at a computer, check in with yourself every hour to drop down your shoulders and readjust your body alignment.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your body and muscles hydrated.
- Stand with your back to a wall and place a tennis ball behind your neck. Rub it up and down gently to keep adequate blood flowing throughout your neck.
- Take magnesium supplements before bed to relax your muscles and unwind your mind.
Treating the Pain
While regular massage therapy is an excellent remedy for treating pain in the neck, there are things you can do on your own to help relieve common neck pains.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re stretching is that the goal should be to gently readjust your muscles to help them release the tension that has piled up over the course of your daily activities. Some basic exercises that Valdes-Pages suggests to her clients include rolling your head around slowly, dropping your shoulders to relax the muscles in your upper neck, and bending your neck forward and to each side for 15 seconds in each direction.
“It takes a while for people to get into a routine. But being diligent about stretching and having a therapist show you the right stretches is so important,” advises Valdes-Pages. “Muscles are like people. You have to be really nice to them, soothe them and not just go in for an attack.”
In addition to stretching, Valdes-Pages also recommends using a combination of hot and cold treatments to soothe the neck area. In the morning, you can apply a cold therapy like Biofreeze to the painful area and then follow up in the evening by applying heat to the same area to get the benefits of both approaches.
“Heat on the neck at night is a really effective and therapeutic way to relax your muscles,” Valdes-Pages said. “There are two spots on the base of your neck right above the point of the shoulder blades that react really well when stimulated with heat.”
Neck pain is a common ailment for many Americans, but that doesn’t mean you just have to grin and bear it. Through a combination of stretching, body mechanics awareness, heat/cold therapies and regular massage, neck pain can be treated and maybe even prevented. Don’t ignore the pain in your neck, but rather readjust your daily activities to address it.