Please note that this post is provided for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If you have any concerns please consult an appropriately qualified medical professional.
According to Practical Pain Management, neck pain is one of the four most common types of pain (the other three are lower back pain, knee pain, and headache.) Around 30% of US adults will experience neck pain annually, and anywhere from 20% to 70% will experience neck pain that impedes their daily activities at some point in their lifetime.
So if you’re suffering from neck pain, you are far from alone. Read on to learn about some of the most common causes of neck pain and some easy stretches you can do to help reduce yours.
What Causes Neck Pain?
There are numerous causes of neck pain and it is not always easy to identify what is causing it.
If you have recently been in an accident (such as a motor collision or sports accident,) you may be suffering from whiplash. Whiplash usually gets better by itself in a few weeks with a treatment plan of exercises and pain medication if necessary.
Another common cause of neck pain is your neck becoming stuck in an awkward position while sleeping. According to Healthline, sleeping on your stomach with your neck twisted to one side is particularly likely to cause neck problems. The wrong pillow can also be a culprit.
Poor posture is responsible for many cases of neck pain. Prolonged periods of poor posture put undue stress on the structures that support your head, and this effect is cumulative over time. Learning and adopting proper posture is one of the most effective ways to prevent neck pain from occurring or from getting worse.
Finally, a pinched nerve can cause neck pain. Properly called cervical radiculopathy, this occurs when a nerve in your neck is compressed or irritated at the point where it branches away from the spinal cord. It can be caused by natural wear and tear as you age, or by a sudden injury resulting in a herniated disk (this is usually the cause when a pinched nerve occurs in younger people.) In many people, a pinched nerve gets better over time by itself, but if it does not improve then additional treatment may be required.
In the next section, we will show you some simple stretches that can help you to reduce your neck pain. Remember that if you have any concerns, you should always see an appropriate medical professional such as a doctor or physiotherapist.
- Sit or stand with a straight back and look straight ahead.
- Slowly turn your head to look to the left and hold this position for ten seconds before returning to center.
- Repeat this movement to the right.
- Repeat the movement 10 times in total, 5 times on each side.
This is a great exercise to do if you work at a computer or a similar job where you have to keep your head in a steady, forward-facing position. Doing this exercise every hour or two during your working day can help to prevent neck strain and loosen up a stiff neck.
Neck Extension and Flexion
Neck extension refers to bending your neck backwards and neck flexion refers to bending your neck forwards. Here’s how to do it:
- Begin in a sitting or standing position with a neutral spine.
- Looking upwards and bringing your head backwards, gently extend your neck without moving your back or shoulders. Move slowly or you could do more harm than good.
- Once your head is as far back as it can comfortably go, hold the stretch for 5 seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
- Slowly and gently tilt your chin towards your chest, looking downwards by only moving your head (try not to move your shoulders forward or round your spine.)
- Once your head is as far forward as it can comfortably go, hold the stretch for 5 seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat this entire process 5 times in total (5 extensions and 5 flexions.)
You should feel a neck extension along the front of your neck and throat. You may also feel it along the back of your neck from the base of your skull to your upper back. You should feel a neck flexion across the back of your neck.
One of the easiest stretches to perform, the humble shoulder roll can do wonders for your neck pain.
- Begin in a standing position with a neutral spine.
- Raise your shoulders straight up towards your ears and move them in a circle going forwards.
- Repeat 6-10 times.
- Repeat the exercise again, this time moving your shoulders in a circle going backwards for the same number of repetitions.
Repeat this exercise a few times a day to help prevent or soothe neck pain.
Don’t: Roll Your Neck
Neck rolls or circles can be tempting when you have neck pain and may even offer temporary relief, but they can also be risky.
When you roll your neck, it forces the head and neck into extreme positions beyond the cervical vertebrae’s usual range of motion. This increases your risk of both hyperextension and compression, both of which are bad news for your neck health.