Neck pain and the three biggest mistakes patients make!

Do you suffer with neck pain? Have you recently had a flare up and don’t know what to do about it?

In the current climate, most people have had to change the way they work and this has involved some big changes in postures, general movement and reductions in incidental exercise. These changes have lead to an increase in postural related pain with the most common condition I have seen over the last month or so being neck pain.

There are normally a number of factors that would lead to someone having neck pain. A change in load and routine as previously mentioned is a big one but others include stress, changes in pillows/bed, acute injury or repetitive stress injuries. For the purpose of this blog, I am talking general neck pain and not acute neck pain due to a specific injury or trauma.

During these challenging times it’s not uncommon that people will be experiencing a number of these different factors at the same time. Whilst neck pain can be pretty debilitating, it normally has a favourable prognosis with most people recovering after just a few weeks to a couple of months. Sometimes it can be prolonged and in most of these cases, there are a number of things people may be doing wrong to prolong these symptoms.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but from my experience these are the three biggest mistakes people will make when they develop neck pain.

  1. They stop moving. I understand that when you are in pain, sometimes the easy and most comfortable option is bed rest or lying on the couch, waiting and hoping for the pain to pass you by. With neck pain (and pretty much all other types of pain) this is one of the worst things you can do if you want a quick recovery. Motion is lotion, the more we move the more we pump blood around the body and the areas that need it most, we get our joints in out upper back and neck more mobile and we change our postures and our positions of the neck naturally with something as simple as going for a walk. I am not suggesting anything overly strenuous in the first few days of pain, but general activity, avoiding prolonged rest and basically just pushing on with it will set you up for a quicker recovery.
  2. Over stretching the neck. So often people come in with neck pain, trying to do the right thing by stretching out the upper traps and scalenes (tilting head to the side basically) to within an inch of their life! When we stretch with so much intensity it can have the opposite of the intended effect with the muscles guarding up and reacting to that over stretch with more tension. If you enjoy stretching and it feels good, then go for it. Just gentle stretches in a variety of motions would be ideal, do not try and stretch your head off!
  3. No strength work. This is a hard sell! When our necks are sore and ‘tight’, its most likely due to overload of these muscles in the neck. When we are sat at a desk all day, our upper traps etc. are in this constant state of low-level contraction. When we develop neck pain, it’s mostly due to these muscles being unable to cope with these loads all day. The best way to fix this issue is to strengthen the muscles around the neck and shoulders so they can tolerate the loads you are placing on them. Yes, this might not feel amazing initially as everything is probably sensitive, but over time you will have long lasting changes and hopefully avoid further episodes of neck pain.

In summary, there are many various forms of neck pain and this blog is very general advice for the majority of neck pain I see in clinic. It may not be applicable to everyone so please have your neck pain assessed by a skilled health practitioner who can diagnose and give you an effective treatment program.

Author: Daniel Noble

Daniel Noble is a Physiotherapist at Health Space and has a keen interest in sport injuries and chronic injuries that are impacting on a persons quality of life. Book in with Daniel today and lets start working on getting you back to full health!

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