According to a recent study undertaken by the CSP( Chartered Society of Physiotherapists), 31% of people experience pain at work at least once a week, with back pain reported as the most common physical problem (65%), followed by shoulder pain (37%), and neck pain (37%.). With non specific neck pain, the cause is usually multifactorial and includes poor posture, neck strain, sporting and occupational activities, anxiety, and depression. If you have been suffering from neck pain for more than 4 weeks its important to get a diagnosis. If you have an acute neck injury, or the symptoms are getting worse or you feel dizzy, have problems swallowing or feel wobbly on your feet see you GP as soon as possible.

Here’s a brief guide to help avoid neck pain

 1. Posture. Good Sitting posture at work or home is vital to protect your neck and spine

Forward head posture requires 3.6 times more force to maintain than straight standing posture. The result an is imbalance in neck flexors extensors and chronic tension leading to cervicogenic headaches.

Healthy and Unhealthy Posture

Efficient Posture

Head is balanced over top of spine, chin is tucked naturally, shoulders are set back and down, upper back is erect yet relaxed, chest is open and relaxed, lower back is naturally curved and equal weight placed through sitting bones

Inefficient Posture

Head is pushed forward, chin is jutting out, shoulders are rounded and placed forward of vertical, chest is tight and shortened.  Upper back is slumped forard, lower back is forced in too far forward (flexed) or  backwards (extended).  Sitting on one sitting bone more than another causing back pain and further neck pain

2. Work station ergonomics

Its important to get an assessment at work and make sure you work station is set up correctly for you.

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For further details from the HSE about seating at work look here

3. Sleep

Make sure your pillow width compressed is the same distance from neck to tip of shoulder when lying on your side So you head and neck are parallel to the mattress and not too far down or stretched upwards.  See diagram below.  Avoid a pillow which forces the head upwards when you lie on you back.  Memory foam or foam cube pillows can be more supportive and adaptive than feather or hollow fibre. Experiment in store before you buy.

4. Exercises and Habits to avoid

Avoid being too ambitious with circuit training or HIIT or weight training the upper body. Especially if you are a beginner, have prior neck problems , just returning to exercise after a break or have poor core strength.  Core strength work for shoulder girdle placement should be the foundation for heavier weights. Avoid also if you are a beginner or inexperienced at Yoga head and shoulder stands. In addition, over straining in pilates can cause severe neck tensions.  Remember to stretch afterwards.

5. Stretches

Stretching the neck and thoracic spine at work or during prolonged sitting is vital to over come tension and prevent upper limb and neck injuries.  Its important to take regular breaks if you sit for more than 4 hours a day.  Take a mini stretch every 30 mins or so.  Leave a post-it note on your monitor to remind you through the day to stretch and take breaks.

Exercise : Please try these neck exercises  If you have any query about the suitability of these please contact me here.  You can also try these exercises to help keep you flexible and injury free at your desk.

Sources

NICE guidelines

  • For people with neck pain for less than 4 weeks, management includes:
    • Providing reassurance — non-specific neck pain is a common problem that usually resolves within a few weeks.
    • Encouraging activity and a return to a normal lifestyle.
    • Advising that a firm pillow may provide comfort at night.
    • Offering simple analgesia to relieve symptoms.
  • For people with neck pain for 4 to 12 weeks, in addition to the above measures, the following should be considered:
    • Referral for multimodal treatment strategy that includes stretching and strengthening exercise, and some form of manual therapy.
    • Addressing any psychosocial factors.
    • Referral to Occupational Health for people with neck pain related to work.
    • Referral for acupuncture.
  • For people with neck pain for more than 12 weeks in addition to the above measures, the following should be considered:
    • A trial of therapy with amitriptyline, or pregabalin (or gabapentin).
    • Referral to a pain clinic.

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Health and Social Care Bill – Lords Report Stage briefing: Impact of NHS reforms on musculoskeletal physiotherapy February 2012