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Pain in the Neck

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Pain in the Neck

By Kermit Pattison

You arrive at your job feeling fine. But by mid-afternoon, you’re feeling like someone has put a death grip on your neck and upper back, and no amount of head rolling, neck grasping or shoulder hunching seems to do much good. By the time you get to the gym, your energy is shot and your shoulders don’t feel up to hefting anything heavier than an aspirin bottle.

What gives? Poor posture combined with long hours at a keyboard and monitor can lead to a condition called “computer neck.” The symptoms include pain and tightness in the neck, shoulders and back. Computer neck can degrade into chronic pain — the kind that gets alternately better or worse with stress and overuse but that hardly ever seems to go away.

The neck is vulnerable because it plays many roles. Essentially, it’s the body’s utility pole, containing bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles and nerves. It also holds up your head, which weighs in at about 10 pounds — roughly as much as a bowling ball.

Muscles, acting like guide wires, keep the weight of the head centered and supported. Pain most often stems from poor body mechanics that upset this balance and put unnatural strain on the neck.

“As we develop poor posture, over time certain muscles become very tight and shortened and other muscles become lax and lengthened,” says Lynn Millar, PhD, professor of physical therapy at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. “That process further alters posture, putting the spinal column in a less-than-optimal position.”

Left unchecked, such dysfunction can cause muscle spasms, compression of nerves or a degeneration of the spinal column. Chronic cases bring a litany of problems: stiffness, headaches, work absenteeism, emotional stress and missed workouts.

Next: How to help?

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8:24PM PDT on Jul 13, 2010

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4:39PM PDT on Jun 10, 2010

In addition to stretching the neck, having it evaluated and worked on, you may also want to discuss a program of resistance exercises with whatever practitioner you work with.

These exercises involve pushing the head into the hand at different angles, building up how many repetitions you do over time. This will allow you to build strength in areas that may be weak, and not functioning properly. It's not unusual to have one side of the neck be consistently tighter & perhaps more painful than the other side. And very often after an injury it may be that one side is doing most of the work of holding the head upright. Eventually the imbalance of the right & left can cause the working side to essentially go on strike. When that happens it becomes nearly impossible to turn the head easily, much less lay your head down or pick it up without using the hands.

Structural Integration therapy is what worked for me when I had the experience of the muscles simply not want to work correctly any more! This is why I work so closely with clients on neck related injuries & pain. It is crucial that not only do they get the help they need - but also that they get involved in their health maintenance!

12:20PM PDT on Jun 10, 2010

I agree with stretching for your neck & shoulders.

However as a professional Massage Therapist with an old whiplash injury (over 25 years ago) sometimes stretching is just a part of the therapy needed. Having your neck evaluated by a chiropractor, or other medical professional may be necessary. Sometimes old scar tissue is formed, & arthritis sets in as well. In addition there may be restriction due to misalignment of the cervical region.

Then there is the factor that in whiplash injuries the problem may extend further down along the upper spinal area into the shoulder. Massage therapy can be of great help with neck pain. Treatment also may involve working the entire upper back along with the front of the chest, on down through the ribcage in order to free up restrictions form either injury or overuse, bad posture, etc.

12:26AM PDT on Jun 2, 2010

As a massage therapist, stretching regularly is the best way to treat and further prevent pain from occurring.

12:02PM PDT on May 18, 2010


Because I work in a warehouse, I get horrible back and neck pains. The only thing that has worked for me is hydrotherapy - warm water and powerful jets soothe my back pain. It's quite effective. I also exercise regularly to further reduce my pain.

I wrote hot tub's and hydrotherapy's beneficial uses in my very first post on Care2. I'd love to know what you think.

12:14AM PDT on May 13, 2010

This is quite an informative post that I'm going to share with many of my colleagues and friends who work on the computer or laptop. Very helpful - thanks

3:20AM PDT on May 4, 2010

thanks a good read.

11:21AM PDT on May 2, 2010

So now I know why my neck hurts...

6:11AM PDT on Apr 26, 2010

great article...getting a massage works wonders as well:-)

10:17AM PDT on Apr 21, 2010

WOW who would of thought hey thanks for the article i really needed to read this i sure hope it helps me

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