The neck, also referred to as the cervical spine, can experience pain from a wide range of causes. It can be temporary or chronic, mild or severe. As we explore neck pain, we will learn the importance of exercise on posture and neck pain.
What Causes Neck Pain?
Neck pain is a common medical condition. Neck pain can come from a variety of sources, such as infections and diseases. However, it can also be a result of trauma or poor posture. Learning the importance of exercise on posture and neck pain can enable you to avoid or lessen the negative effects of trauma or poor posture on your neck.
Neck pain may be minor, or it may be excruciating or anywhere in between, Some neck pain doesn't interfere with daily life, and some neck pain is severe and interferes with daily activities and sleep. The pain might be short-lived, come and go, or become constant.
Types of Neck Pain
Poor neck posture or keeping your head in an uncomfortable position when sleeping or sitting is a common cause of temporary neck pain. Neck pain can be caused by certain illnesses, including common infections, such as a viral throat infection which can lead to gland swelling and neck pain.
Neck pain can also come from rare infections, such as tuberculosis or a spinal bone infection. Another cause of neck pain is inflammation. Spinal meningitis, for example, is a type of inflammation that affects the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.
As we age, degenerative disc disease is a common cause of neck pain. Degenerative disc disease is the deterioration of the discs between the vertebrae. Because both the discs and the joints are partly composed of cartilage, these areas can be affected by wear and tear that occur over time.
Neck pain can also come from conditions directly affecting the muscles of the neck, such as polymyalgia rheumatica, or fibromyalgia. Polymyalgia rheumatica is a disease of the muscles and joints that can involve the neck as well as other areas of the body. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome which causes chronic pain, fatigue, and tenderness to touch can also be a cause of neck pain.
Trauma and injury can often cause neck pain. Neck injuries such as in whiplash, a herniated disc or a pinched nerve can cause varying degrees of neck pain. It is important to understand the importance of exercise for improving posture and reducing pain.
Benefits of Good Posture
Many of us have a habit of slouching and letting our head protrude forward. This forward head posture occurs when the neck slants forward, placing the head further in front of the shoulders rather than directly above them. When maintained for an extended period of time, a forward head position often causes and aggravates painful neck conditions.
Your head weighs 10 pounds or more. This is the weight that your neck needs to support. The more that your head and shoulders drift forward or slouch, the more stress is placed on your neck’s joints and muscles. The longer that poor posture is continued, the more likely that neck pain will develop.
Problems Caused by a Forward Head Posture
Increased stress on the cervical spine is one issue. As the head is held forward in poor posture, the neck must support increasing amounts of weight.
Hyperflexion and hyperextension of the cervical spine is another complication. This alteration of the cervical spine’s curve lengthens the distance from the base of the skull to the base of the neck, causing the spinal cord and nerve roots to become stretched. Muscle overload is another problem. Some muscles in the neck and upper back must continually overwork to counterbalance the pull of gravity on the forward head.
A hunched upper back can also result from a forward head posture. It's often accompanied by forward shoulders and a rounded upper back. Any one of these postural deviations can cause neck pain.
Neutral Neck Position
If your pain intensifies while sitting or moves away from your neck, toward or into your shoulder, or down your arm, it's likely related to your posture. Good neck posture means placing and maintaining your head in a neutral position. The neutral neck position is attained when your ears are aligned directly over your shoulders.
If you are unaccustomed to this position, it can feel awkward. It may feel like your head is being pushed back instead of being neutral. This neutral position places the weight of your head directly over your spine. This position minimizes the stress on the discs and ligaments in your neck.
It may be helpful if you approach this new neck posture as an exercise. If you think of this posture adjustment as an exercise, you may find it easier to practice this new head position and to build the necessary stamina to hold this posture for increasingly longer periods of time. Establishing and maintaining a neutral head position may be challenging at first, but it can be a key to both recovery and preventing future pain.
The Importance of Exercise
We all know about the importance of exercise. When we are active and keep our muscles strong, it’s easier to maintain good posture. Strengthening these muscles along with practicing good posture may help relieve neck pain and even prevent it in the future.
We may not think of the neck benefiting from exercise. The importance of exercise applies to your neck, just as it applies to the rest of your body. When your body is physically active, your muscles get worked. You may not realize it, but your neck muscles are included.
Walking, working out, gardening and doing housework all work your muscles in a variety of ways. Being active throughout the day puts your neck through a wide range of motions and helps keep it strong.
Exercising and being active improves your circulatory system, too. More blood gets pumped throughout your body, including your neck. Improved circulation can help relax your muscles and improve mobility.
However, if you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, watching TV or being relatively inactive in general, your neck muscles become weaker and tighter. Being in this condition, your neck is more susceptible to injuries.
The importance of exercise on neck pain is well established. The key is to stay active without making your pain worse. Many people are surprised that some exercises can reduce pain, speed recovery and prevent neck pain from returning.
Monitor Your Symptoms
It’s important to choose exercises carefully to avoid making your neck pain worse. One way to know if a particular activity or exercise is causing your pain to get worse is to monitor your symptoms during and after the activity.
If your neck pain spreads away from your neck and travels into your shoulder or down your arm, this is a sign that the action is causing more pain. This can happen during certain exercises or daily activities such as driving, reading or using a computer for a prolonged period of time.
However, if the pain moves out of your arm or shoulder and is felt closer to the center of your neck, this is a good sign. You may be able to identify exercises and positions that can cause the pain to move back to your neck. When this happens, your pain may decrease and disappear with continued exercise.
It’s important to avoid overworking your neck. Repetitive motions can cause neck pain. Starting slow and taking breaks can prevent you from overdoing it.
Rest, Ice, Heat
If your neck pain is not debilitating and isn’t a result of trauma, you can sometimes get relief by using one or more of these simple methods: resting, applying ice, or applying heat.
Rest may be all that is needed for minor neck strains and sprains. The muscles and tendons may heal on their own when allowed to rest. Applying ice can work as an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling and pain. Ice can temporarily close small blood vessels and prevent swelling from becoming worse. Heat can be used for ongoing pain, helping to relax muscles.
Neck pain can occur from a wide range of causes, including trauma, infection, disease and even poor posture. Learning the importance of exercise on posture and neck pain can be the key to reducing symptoms and relieving neck pain.
Neck pain can occur in several forms including a stiff neck with a limited range of motion, a sharp pain in one area of the neck, soreness in a general area, radiating pain, radiating tingling or numbness.
Being active not only strengthens your neck, but it can also lessen your risk of developing neck pain. However, if you experience chronic neck pain or pain that worsens with activity, consult your doctor.