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“What a pain in the neck!” Lots of helpful chipur tipurs…

A stiff and, at times, painful neck has always been an issue for this mood and anxiety vet. I played lots of football in my junior/high school years, but I’m not thinking that has anything to do with it. I have little doubt my neck issues are all about stress, and you may be in the same boat.

Ah – the disclaimer first, okay? I am not a medical doctor and am in no way attempting to diagnose what you’re experiencing and telling you how to fix it; though I’ll be offering my opinions. If you’re experiencing chronic neck stiffness and pain, please touch base with a physician. Got it?

Now then – notice the image I chose for the article shows head, face, and neck musculature. I didn’t use an image that included the cervical spine and that’s because I believe my issues, and perhaps yours, are more a matter of chronic muscle inflammation, swelling, and tension.

That said, it’s quite possible you may have a spine issue – say, a herniated disc. So again, as you approach that which ails you be sure to consider all possibilities and have a physician take a look.

Were it not for the fact that I’m a baseline “tense” kind of guy, spend hours and hours producing chipur stuff on my laptop, hold tons of tension in my face, jaw, and shoulders, and have dicey posture I’d really be scratching my head as to why my neck is so chronically stiff. Unfortunately such are the facts.

See, the anatomy of it all tells us the muscles of the upper shoulders and neck contract under stress, and it doesn’t take bunches of it to cause problems. That noggin of ours weighs about 10 pounds (the brain itself about three), and it begins to be yanked off balance as the shoulders and neck get to pulling. And when that happens your neck does all it can to try to hold it in place, causing all the more stress.

Within this context, neck stiffness and pain is all about inflammation and swelling.

Okay – yada, yada, yada. Now we know I, and likely you, have issues with neck stiffness and pain. So what can we do about it? Well, as usual, I’ve traversed the world in search of solutions for chipur readers (alright, for me too). And here’s what’s caught my eye…

  • A basic rule of thumb – keep your neck in a “neutral” position as often as possible. That means don’t hold it in all sorts of contorted positions for lengths of time.
  • Do your best not to sit in the same position for long periods of time. And if you do, try as hard as you can to maintain good posture – head in a neutral position, knees slightly lower than your hips, your back supported, and arms in a rested position (use an arm rest). Needless to say, this really applies to computer time and driving.
  • When reading or using a computer, make sure the monitor is at eye level.
  • If you read in bed, make sure you’re not placing undue stress on your neck. You may need to buy one of those wedge pillow thingies or a portable “mini-desk.”
  • Maybe your pillow is the problem. From what I’ve read, feather pillows are better for you (if you don’t have allergy issues) because they better conform to the contour of the neck.
  • Try some neck stretching exercises (comin’ up next) before going to bed.
  • Yikes! Do not sleep on your stomach.
  • Practice proper lifting techniques (yes, this impacts the neck, as well as the back) – stand up straight and close to the object, bend at the hips and knees with your back in a neutral position, keep your feet at shoulder width with one slightly forward of the other, keep you head and shoulders up, after grasping the object rise using your hip and leg muscles.
  • Watch that you’re not carrying items on one shoulder for undue lengths of time.
  • Be mindful of holding your phone between your head and shoulder.
  • Watch for jaw-clenching (“lockjawitis,” as a friend and I refer to it).

Okay, you’re now practicing good neck hygiene (how clinical is that?), but your neck is still getting stiff and sore. What to do next?

Here’s a roster of neck stiffness and pain remedies…

  • When stiffness and pain are acute, rest. And while you’re at it use an ice pack for 20 minutes at a time, with a 40 minute rest period. This is recommended for the first 48-72 hours of a stiff neck. Heat seems to be a natural choice for most, but remember, initially this is an issue of inflammation and swelling, and heat’s only going to make it worse. However, heat can be used in 20 minute spells after the acute phase has ended.
  • Now that your neck is relaxed, how ’bout some massage? Use your hands or hand-held messager and work in a circular motion, pressing downward. Rotating your head during treatment may help. Realize it could take 15 minutes, four to five days a day, to achieve a measure of relief.
  • For quick relief when you’re out and about – create some heat on your hands by rubbing them together for a while, and massage your neck.
  • Whether it’s before bedtime or after your ice-heat-massage protocol, try some stretching exercises…
  • Shoulder Roll Exercise – relax your arms and just gently roll both shoulders in a circular  motion 5-10 times.
  • Head Half-Rolls – with your arms at your side, gently roll your head from left to right 5-10 times.
  • Upward Stretch – stand up straight and pretend a string is pulling you straight up from the top of your head. Repeat 5-10 times.
  • Maintaining an exercise regimen will help.
  • If you need to, cautiously use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) – aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen. Remember, acetaminophen may help with pain, but not inflammation.

Well, needless to say there are all sorts of relief strategies and techniques available to us; however, what I’ve offered should get you started. And, again, visit with your physician or hit the Internet for more education and ideas.

What are your thoughts, as well as other relief gems? How ’bout commenting? You’ll be helping all of us.