Beyond the Office
When it comes to preventing neck pain that can undermine your workouts, your activities and posture outside of the office matters, too. Be aware of your posture while driving, eating and watching TV, and take special care about the postures you adopt for sleeping.
If you sleep on your back or your side, make sure your pillow keeps your head aligned with your spine. Avoid sleeping on your stomach: It forces your neck to remain in a twisted position for many hours.
Exercises that target the neck area can prevent neck pain, too. The key is to strengthen muscles in the neck and upper back that are often responsible for postural problems. Many types of exercise will get the job done, including yoga, isometric exercises, lifting weights or resistance training with elastic bands.
Jerome Schofferman, MD, author of What to Do for a Pain in the Neck (Fireside Books, 2001), recommends a few simple exercises that can be done at home or in the gym (for those exercises, see the “Be Nice to Your Neck” Web Extra!). “Strong muscles are necessary for good posture,” he writes, “and good posture is necessary for underlying structures to heal.”
In the short term, you can ease neck pain by avoiding painful activity, gently massaging the affected area, and alternating hot and cold therapy. Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications may help relieve acute pain, but it’s best to avoid using them as a long-term solution. Rest helps, too, but avoid prolonged inactivity, because weak muscles can degenerate further and exacerbate the problem.
If neck pain persists more than two weeks and you’ve taken steps to alleviate your condition, visit your physician or chiropractor. If you have trouble carrying things, or if you experience numbness, tingling or shooting pain down your shoulder, arm or leg, contact a health professional immediately.
Being kind to your body while you’re at work means your body will be kind to you in your off-hours, including during your fitness pursuits. Good posture, deep breathing and practical self-care in the office, according to Linden, translate into better performance during other everyday activities, including athletic and active pursuits of all kinds.
“The good habits you develop at work will carry over into your sport or athletic endeavors,” he says. “You will find yourself using the same body awareness, balance, relaxation and movement efficiency there, too.”