What causes pain in the back of the neck?

  • If you’re experiencing chronic pain, then it might be time to go to your doctor to get it checked out. After all, your neck – or cervical spine – is an incredibly important part of your body. It’s a coordinated network of bones, nerves, joints and muscles that connect directly to your brain and spinal cord.

    As you would imagine, this complexity and mobility means the neck is very prone to injury and pain.

    Check Your Posture

    While there are a variety of reasons you have neck pain, the most common is due to poor posture. If the alignment of your head and spine aren’t optimal, you’re setting yourself up for injury or degenerative effects of wear and tear over time.

    Most of us are guilty of poor posture. The one that affects the neck the most is a forward head and shoulder posture.

    Image from The Physio Company

    While your posture might not be as dramatic as the picture above, it’s important to stay conscious of how you sit and stand. The forward head position is especially damaging as it leads to several problems

    • The forward pull of the head puts unnecessary stress on the vertebrae of the lower neck, leading to potential disc and other degenerative neck issues
    • It causes the upper back muscles to overwork in order to counterbalance the pull of gravity on the forward head.
    • Often the forward head also is accompanied by hunched shoulders and rounded upper back, which feeds further into neck problems and causes shoulder pain.

    It’s an easy posture to fall into and a common one, especially when you’re sitting in front of a computer to read a screen or constantly looking down at your smartphone or tablet to check messages or play games.

    Other Causes of Neck Pain

    While poor posture may be the leading cause of neck pain. There are other reasons you could be experiencing it.

    • Injury or whiplash: many injuries can linger for a long time and some might not even manifest immediately and you won’t feel the effects until a couple months later. Trauma to the neck causes the muscles to tighten and contract, leading to pain.
    • Age: as you get older, you are at greater risk of developing osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease.
    • Diseases: while neck pain is generally caused by strain, injury or degenerate issues, it could potentially be an indication of a serious issue such as spinal infection, spinal cord compression, tumor or fracture.

    Correct Your Posture

    Changing the way you sit and stand won’t happen over right and in the beginning it will require conscious effort. However, these steps should help:

    • Keep track of your posture throughout the day and check to see how you stand. Are your ears over your shoulders? Are your shoulders rounded or pulled back? Take note every couple hours and correct yourself as necessary to get into proper posture.
    • Stand against a wall and make sure your back and back of the head are flush against the wall. Hold this pose for at least a minute.
    • Use a massage ball at the base of your skull where your neck meets your head to relieve some tension and tight muscles.
    • Stretch the back of your neck and sides of your necks for about 30 seconds. Repeat this stretch three times.
    • Wear a neck brace. It’s not just for injuries, it can also help you fix your posture while relieving pain and decreasing stress!
    • If all else fails, go to a chiropractor or massage therapist to help you relieve some tension and get some guidance on stretches and exercises you can do at home.

    Easing Neck Pain

    Image via Bridge Care Medical

    While a neck brace can certainly help stabilize your neck and prevent painful movement, it isn’t a permanent solution. For best results you’ll want to do the following:

    • Sleep on your back instead of your side or stomach
    • Invest in a better pillow
    • Do some neck stretches and exercises
    • Treat yourself to a relaxing massage not just to loosen muscle knots but also to relieve stress
    • Adjust your chair and monitor so that the monitor is eye level

    In addition to exercising and practicing good posture, you’ll also want to eat a diet rich in:

    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Antioxidants and fiber
    • Calcium and vitamin D
    • Magnesium
    • Water

    These vitamins and nutrients can help prevent the onset of anti-inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and keep your bones and muscles healthy.

    Disclaimer: This is not intended to replace advice from your primary care physician. If you are experiencing chronic neck pain, go to your doctor to get it checked out.

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