You only have to experience discomfort in your neck and shoulder area once to understand why people sometimes refer to specific problems or circumstances as “’a pain in the neck.” The pain can run from slight (sleeping on an uncomfortable pillow) to major (whiplash from an auto accident) but a pain in the neck and shoulder areas affect just about every aspect of your day-to-day living. Some pain experiences are temporary and others may be around for weeks, months, or even years.
Some Common Causes of Neck and Shoulder Pain
Just about everyone has made a quick move that has resulted in what is known as a “crick” in your neck. One false move and you are looking at pain every which way you turn. Shoulder pain also can come up abruptly but is usually aggravated by a movement that was strained or repetitive making use of muscles that were not used on a regular basis. Here are some common causes of neck pain:
A quick but unexpected turn or movement of the head
You never know when something is going to catch your attention. Turning your head quickly and unexpectedly can result in a moderate but mostly inconvenient pain in your neck. Even though it is more than likely a temporary occurrence, the pain can still be debilitating.
Whiplash is a prime example of an unexpected movement of the head that can result in a case of severe neck pain that can last for several months. It’s not unusual for whiplash to show up sometime after the accident has occurred. Treatment can begin at home by putting ice on the sore neck and taking over-the-counter medications for pain. If this condition persists you should see your physician for stronger prescriptions to help you handle the pain.
While it would be impossible to protect yourself from whiplash, you can make sure to wear your seatbelt at all times and stay as close to the assigned speed limits as possible.
While you can’t limit all of your movements all of the time, try to refrain from sudden turns to keep your risk of neck pain to a minimum. Maintaining a relaxed attitude is good for an overall healthy outlook and will help keep you from experiencing unnecessary “cricks” in your neck.
Sleeping on a pillow that is not right for you
If you find yourself waking up most mornings with a stiff neck you could possibly be sleeping on a pillow that does not support your head properly. It may sound a little like Goldilocks – one pillow is too soft; one is too hard; another pillow sets too high; another pillow is too low. How do you find the pillow that is just right for you so you don’t have to wake up with one more day of neck pain?
Just as finding the right mattress can keep you from experiencing back pain, taking the time to get a good pillow can prevent you from further neck pain. Things you have to consider when selecting a pillow:
- Make sure the pillow can maintain its fluffiness and does not flatten out after you fold it in half.
- Deciding on the filling is also important. You have your choice of everything from feathers to foam. If you have allergies look for a pillow that is hypoallergenic.
- Just like sheets pillows also have a thread count. Look for one that is around 300 – 500 for a reasonably priced but comfortable pillow.
Life is too short to spend 6-8 hours each night on a pillow that doesn’t give you the support you deserve. Our site lists some of the best-rated pillows that will not only help you to achieve a good night’s sleep, you won’t wake up with neck and shoulder pain.
Sitting at your computer for long periods of time
For many people their daily work requires them to sit at their desk for long periods of time and most of it in front of a computer. This position not only affects the neck but the shoulders, lower back, and even the wrists.
While no one expects you to quit your job in order to avoid pain in these areas, it is advised that you stand up and step away from your desk at least twice every hour. In addition, sitting on an ergonomic chair will help keep your body in line and help to keep your pain to a minimum.
Professionals can’t seem to agree on the best posture to assume while working except to advise workers to sit up straight. Check your posture – if you find yourself hunched over, straighten up. Just that subtle change alone will keep unnecessary strain off your neck. (As a bonus, when you stand up straight you tend to look thinner!)
Keeping your head in the same position while texting or using other electronic devices
It’s hard to miss the fact that everywhere you go people are consumed by their personal electronics – cell phones, tablets, laptops – and their heads are usually in a downward position focused on their electronic activities.
“Text neck” is a real condition that results in moderate to severe neck pain. While this may be a temporary situation, it will continue as long as you keep your neck in the same positions over and over again. What can you do to relieve “text neck”? Look up on a regular basis, cut down on the amount of time you spend texting, playing games or on your cell phone with your head in the same position, and incorporate a few neck roll exercises into your daily routine.
Sit down in a relaxed position. Drop your head down so your chin is aiming for your chest. Roll your head around slowly towards the left, towards the back, and around to your right side. Repeat 2-3 times; reverse the direction and start with the right side.
Another thing you can do to cut down on “text neck” is to change how you are holding your phone or electronic device. Raising your arm upward will cut down on the amount of pressure you put on your neck when you are constantly working on a device. Try to cut down on cell phone use and texting little by little.
An injury received while participating in a sports event
Most athletes strive to achieve a physically fit body, but the activities that they participate in can often result in neck injuries. Sports such as wrestling, football, and even baseball, can contribute to a sore neck. Depending on the sport you are involved in, make sure you take the necessary precautions to protect your neck whether it is wearing special equipment or making sure to apply ice and/or heat to the affected area afterwards. Also, don’t forget to stretch and cool down your muscles before and after participating in a sporting activity.
If you enjoy playing sports make sure that you are wearing the proper attire. Don’t try to look cool without a helmet or you may end up with more than neck pain!
Tension during particular stressful events in your life
As the saying goes, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” That is easy to say but what may seem small to someone else could be enormous to you. Try to relax, meditate on a regular basis, and pick your battles – only give your attention to situations that are really serious.
Tension is a major contributor to neck pain. Try to give yourself a little break from the trials and tribulations of your life by starting out with a morning meditation. Clear your mind and start your day relaxed and as close to being stress-free as you can. You can always take a few minutes at lunch time and do some deep breathing exercises. And don’t forget, laughter is the best medicine. Watch a funny movie or switch your satellite radio station to the comedy channel as you drive into work.
Don’t take on unnecessary stress by butting into other people’s lives. Only become involved if someone asks you to help, otherwise, you are acting as an enabler and you are becoming stressed out over things that are none of your business. Stress and tension have a way of showing up in the form of a stiff neck. You will be suffering from pain long after the situation has been resolved.
Residual effects of a headache or a migraine
There are many people who are prone to headaches, some of which become migraines. A regular headache will leave you with pains in various locations in your head, neck, forehead or temple area. It could be mild and relieved with a few aspirins or ibuprofen, or strong and pounding and you may require a prescription from you physician.
Symptoms of a migraine can begin with a pounding headache or neck ache and move onto vomiting, a fever, dizziness, and a sensitivity to light. You may have trouble focusing your eyes and end up in bed for several hours or several days. There are specific medications available to you for migraine headaches and you should see you doctor about getting a prescription so you are ready the next time you have one.
Carrying heavy items in briefcases, shopping bags, and large handbags on a regular basis
Whether you are a career person who has to tote around a briefcase or messenger bag, a mom in charge of transporting groceries, clothing, and things for the house, or just a fashionista who must have the latest handbag hanging off her shoulder, a heavy object that is constantly pulling down on you can wreak havoc on your neck and shoulders. You may think you will gradually get used to the pain until one day you don’t know what is wrong but the pain that is emanating from your neck is unmanageable.
This situation is something that can be handled with a simple lifestyle change – lighten up. Trade in that heavy briefcase for a lighter load; get a convenient portable cart to carry your groceries and shopping bags; and you can still carry a fashionable purse, just make it a lighter version.
Frequent travelling can result in an array of neck problems. Sitting in terminals and airports for long periods of time can deteriorate your neck support leaving you tired and achy.
If you are a regular traveler you may find that sitting around in airports, bus terminals, or train stations can result in a sore neck. Sitting around waiting creates tension in general but having to pass the time sitting in the same positions for long periods of time can really leave you feeling drained, tired, and more stressed out than when you started out.
In order to relieve this tension and give your neck a much-needed break you can opt out for a neck massager to relax the day away when you get home, or you can carry a cushioned neck pillow to use while travelling. Airport seats are notorious for being uncomfortable, especially when you are trying to catch a quick nap on a long flight. Some airlines do offer neck pillows but having your own handy will ensure that you will be as comfortable as you can be.
Neck pain can happen to just about anyone at any moment. Don’t wait until you are in pain – incorporate some of the tips listed above. Any one of these tips could be the one thing that might possibly save you from unnecessary suffering.
If you don’t already exercise, start. Just walking for 20 to 30 minutes a day will increase your circulation and make you feel better in general. Check out some of the YouTube videos that show yoga postures specifically for the neck. The slow-paced, gentle stretching movements of yoga can do wonders for keeping your neck flexible and less prone to pain.
When you treat your body with respect and kindness you will be experiencing life at its fullest. Don’t wait until you are in pain and unable to do the things you want to do. Life is too short to suffer when you can be out making the most of every day. Stand up straight, step away from your desk, and don’t sweat the small stuff – carpe diem: seize the day!
This article is written by Darlene. She has had many years in chronic pain management. You might want to know more about her!