As personal computers, notebooks, ipads, e-readers and smartphones are becoming more important in our lives, more and more people are contacting healthcare providers for musculoskeletal problems such as neck pain. Why is this the case, and are there things that can be done in today’s modern world to reduce one’s chance of neck pain?
It’s common for individuals to lean forward and/or look downward while using mobile devices. The muscles in the back of the neck tend to work harder to keep the head straight while the head lies in front of the neck and shoulders.
Over time, forward head posture (FHP) will lead to head / neck back, arms, and upper back discomfort and injury, leading to pain and impairment. Past findings have found that up to 60 per cent of people with neck / shoulder pain have FHP, indicating that taking action to minimise FHP will have a significant effect on the incidence of neck pain in the general population.
The following exercises will help to strengthen one’s posture and therefore reduce the risk of neck pain (patients with neck pain also benefit from these):
- Stretch the pects, or muscles in the arms, by gripping a door jam and turning 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”. Reinforce the interscapular muscles by laying prone and lifting the arms to the ceiling (like flying), pressing the blades of the shoulder 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 will also reduce the risk of neck pain. In a year-long research involving 367 sedentary staff, those who raised their daily average number of steps by 1,000 steps lowered their risk of neck pain by 14%! And, if you’re working in an office, set a timer to prompt you to get up and walk around and/or perform the aforementioned exercises (at least some which you can do from your seat). Breathing and meditation exercises can also reduce muscle strain in the neck.
In addition to the use of physical therapy such as mobilisation and manipulation to treat patients with neck pain, Osteopaths also prescribe home exercises such as those mentioned above to improve forward head alignment and reinforce the neck muscles not only to relieve neck pain but also to reduce the risk of recurrence of neck pain.