Health | Wellbeing

Physiochat: Muscle-related neck pain

File: Closeup of man rubbing his neck with hand as he aches with pain in the neck on grey background

There are so many people battling with neck pain or some sort of stiffness in the neck, that makes it difficult to engage in certain activities at work or at home.

This affects their quality of life, though they may eventually try to live with it. I personally know a working mother who cannot turn her head much to the side.

This, she said, developed over a long period, and she’s still “managing” with it.  There are quite a number of us who are dealing with a similar issue. 

Why do we overlook it and pretend it doesn’t exist? Is it because we are overburdened with work from the office or home and do not have the time to attend to it? Or we have done all we know and have had zero results?

Have we ever stopped to think about the future effects of this neck pain or stiffness, if left untreated? Are we waiting till it deteriorates before we pay attention to it? As a physiotherapist, I have treated very severe cases in the clinic, which could have been prevented or eased very early.

Neck pain could be accompanied by muscle tightness, muscle spasms, stiffness, and difficulty turning your head in certain directions. In any of these cases, either the muscle, nerve or bony components of the neck could be affected. It could also be referred to the neck from a source at a completely different part of the body.

This article will focus on neck pain which has muscle-related causes.

Muscles in the neck could get strained when they are not carrying the weight of the head in proper position. Posture is the number one concern when it comes to muscle-related neck pain. Let us take a look at stress- free posture in sitting, standing or sleeping positions.

Sometimes, we tend to slouch when we sit to work for hours over a computer. Instead, in sitting position we should be careful to sit upright, with shoulders pulled slightly back. We should try to have our neck aligned vertically with the rest of the spine.

The eyes should be level with the top of the monitor and so that we are not looking down for extended periods. Otherwise, we would be causing stress to the neck muscles.

What happens in standing position is quite similar to the sitting position. The neck must be aligned with the shoulder and the whole back vertically upright. The way we sleep can cause stress and pain to the neck.

Sleeping in bad postures or with big or multiple pillows could cause neck pain. It is advisable to sleep with your head and neck aligned with the rest of your body. Pillows should not be very hard or big.

It is important to note that our phone usage can have a major effect on our necks. We hold our phones between our ear and shoulder at work, or bend our necks forward to check social media habitually. This puts an uneven strain on some of the neck muscles and could eventually lead to a buildup of pain in the neck.

Another cause of strain and eventually pain in the neck muscles is the usage of heavy bags with straps that go over your shoulder. Heavy load on one shoulder especially, would upset the balance of the body and can allow tension to build up in the neck.

Also, when you are under psychological stress like fear, insecurity, anxiety and depression, your muscles get tensed in the upper body and neck areas.  Hence a buildup of this tension may lead to neck pain.

Here are some practical tips to prevent neck tension:

  1. Adjust your sitting posture in front of your computer at work.
  2. Adjust your standing posture
  3. Consider setting a reminder on your phone or computer to check your posture
  4. Take short breaks after sitting for long periods
  5. Use smaller and flatter pillows
  6. Reduce handbag or backpack weight on your shoulders
  7. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week
  8. See a physiotherapist

The writer is a professional physiotherapist at the Accra Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic. She specialises in conditions such as back pain, neck pain, joint pain and stiffness, spinal injuries, sports injuries, arthritis, stroke and Parkinson’s disease. 

Writer’s email: physiochat@yahoo.com