Neck pain

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Neck pain is something that can affect us all. It can arise due to a trauma such as whiplash associated disorder due to a road traffic accident or a slip/fall, or, pain can start with no apparent cause. At Fairway.Physio we commonly see patients who complain of pain in the neck upon waking in the morning with no idea of why their pain has started. In fact, this is more commonly seen than traumatic neck injuries.

Pain can present around the neck but also refer downwards into the top of the shoulder, around the shoulder blade or even into the arm(s). Pain can refer upward too resulting in headaches. Neck pain is often described in many ways, such as a sharp stabbing pain, burning, dull, aching or nagging pain.

There are many structures that can potentially become irritated within the neck such as muscle, ligament, discs and joints. These can become irritated for a variety of reasons. It is a physiotherapists responsibility to identify what structure within the neck is likely being irritated and the cause of the problem. A tailored treatment plan can then be made that usually involves a combination of hands on treatment and exercises to reduce your symptoms and reduce the risk of recurrent injury.

The neck functions to position the head and needs to be mobile enough to move through rotation and side bend as well as moving forward and backward through flexion and extension. However, it also needs to be stable enough to support the weight of the head. This stability of the neck (cervical spine) is created by muscles and ligaments that connect each vertebrae and a neurological system that helps control movement and posture. Discs lie between each of the vertebrae acting like balloons that allow movement of one vertebrae on top of the other. The discs are made up of cartilage ringed fibres that are filled with a fluid called the nucleus pulposus. Yet, as we age this fluid is lost and the disc becomes thinner resulting in each vertebrae becoming closer in proximity to each other. This in turn results in decreased movement of the neck as we get older and a potential for joint injury.

Postural stresses and strains on the neck are increasingly common with our modern lifestyles. We tend to spend more and more time looking at phones or tablets in our downtime and forced to spend more time sat at desks at work completing more paperwork than ever before. The picture below demonstrates the weight of the head as it is positioned in different ranges of forward tilt from zero degrees tilt with the head weighing 10-12lbs to 60 degrees tilt weighing 60lbs !!

neck / phone posture

Slumped seated postures push the head forward of the shoulders. This increases the work done by muscles joining the neck and shoulder blades, subsequently resulting in pain and injury around the neck if sustained over prolonged, repeated periods. We are increasingly seeing this forward head posture in clinics as a cause of neck pain and now also seeing the problem in younger patients.

There are many things you can do to help yourself with neck pain. Firstly, see a physiotherapist who can guide you in the right direction regarding rehabilitation. Then, make sure you make a concerted effort at maintaining a good posture throughout the day, taking regular breaks from prolonged static positions, even if it means just walking from your desk to get a drink every 20-30 minutes.
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