Chronic neck pain affects over one-quarter of the US population according to the AOA (American Osteopathic Association). It can be caused by trauma, poor posture, poor ergonomics at work, and injury. Those who suffer from chronic neck pain often also have migraines, headaches, back pain, and shoulder pain. It can affect how many hours someone is able to work, their ability to get quality sleep, the amount of exercise they engage in, and their day-to-day home activities like cleaning and cooking. Even sitting on the couch too long can be painful.

Patients who opt for regular physical therapy have the most positive outcomes, but there are some self-care methods that are beneficial as well. Bosh Physical Therapy is one licensed physical therapy provider who also recommends these tips for improvements in addition to the rehabilitative services they offer. Check with them first for a proper diagnosis before you begin using any of these tips.

Switching Between Hot and Cold

If you are going to exercise, you should apply heat to your neck and shoulder area. A heating pad or a warm compress are ideal to loosen the stiffness and prep for movement. Many electronic shoulder pads have timed cycles to take the guesswork out of thelength of time to keep the heat on. When using other methods, aim for 10-15 minutes of continuous heat.

After you exercise, use a cold compress or an ice pack to reduce inflammation. The numbing sensation of the cold will provide relief from strained and stressed muscles. Keep the cold pack on 5-10 minutes.

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Stretch and Reach

There are a variety of stretches for the neck muscles that can help to loosen muscle fibers and reduce stiffness. It is ideal to do stretching exercises daily whenever tension is felt in the neck and shoulders. One of the best stretches for working at a computer is to sit straight in a secure chair and raise both shoulders straight up to the ears. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat 5-10 times.

Build Your Neck Muscles

To strengthen the neck muscles, exercises should be done every other day to allow the muscles to heal and recover. Doing push-ups against a wall or using hand weights can be beneficial for neck and shoulder muscles. Proper form is crucial when doing any type of neck exercises and you should be evaluated by a physician and physical therapist before you begin to avoid further injury.

NSAID Pain Relievers

Pain relievers can be helpful in reducing inflammation and pain. Some options include Ibuprofen or Naproxen. There are also muscle relaxants that your doctor can prescribe. Check with your physician for proper dosage requirements. TENS units which provide electrical stimulation are also now available as over-the-counter products. To use these, definitely check with your doctor of physical therapist first as some units are not recommended for use in the neck or shoulder area.

Work Posture

Request an ergonomics audit from a wellness specialist at your work. Wellness specialists are trained to assess your work space for safety and proper alignment of your body through various tasks. They can recommend chairs, computer monitors, and other equipment to make you comfortable throughout the day. They also provide training in properly lifting items and how to adjust your surroundings for good health.

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