Lets play a fun quiz that might help you live with less neck pain… and if you answer “YES’ to any of these questions … read on!
When you sleep at night, do you find yourself sleeping on your stomach, or with more than one pillow in a twisted position?
When you’re relaxing at home, do you find yourself looking up at the TV screen because it’s hung up high on the wall?
When you’re out and about do you carry your bag on one shoulder? Or hold your heavy briefcase in one hand?
Chances are, you’ve answered ‘yes’ to at least one of these questions!
I may be wrong, your bag might not be heavy, and you might sleep with just the one pillow, but the reason why I guessed you’d answered ‘YES’ to one of these questions is because over the years, almost every patient that walks into my clinic who has been suffering with neck pain, has been doing one of these things.
So it’s no surprise that during my time as a Physical Therapist that one of the most regular complaints that I hear is ‘neck pain’.
And without even realizing it, things that we do every day can cause it.
So lets take a look at 3 of the most common everyday mistakes I’ve found my patients doing that cause their ‘neck pain’…
1. Watching TV
Watching TV is a habit – not saying it’s good or bad! But the real issue with watching TV, is HOW you watch it!
Are you doing it the way I see many of my friends and family watch it, with the TV hung above the fireplace high on the wall, kicked back with your feet up (and neck!), while watching your favorite TV soap opera?
Even though you might think it’s comfortable and relaxing, the truth is, there could be a problem waiting for you! If you’re watching TV like this it can be strenuous for your neck and head.
A lot of people make the same mistake, they don’t realize that the position their neck is in can actually affect their body and health.
Anyway, how to fix it? There’s a reason why TV stands are almost always the same height, and any decent one will mean that if you’re sitting on the sofa watching TV, the TV will be at eye level.
Watch TV so your head isn’t looking upwards, or reaching out, and this should help you avoid headaches, eye trouble and muscle tension.
2. Your Bag
Carrying your bag on one shoulder, or holding a heavy briefcase in one hand is something most of us are guilty of doing, but did you know that’s also one of the main causes of aches and pains in your neck and shoulders?
You see, since all of the weight of your bag is on one shoulder, or on one side of the body, it can throw your muscles and posture off balance, which is why you sometimes see people with one shoulder higher than the other!
Another thing, the way we carry our bags can cause our muscles to become stiff too.
So the way to solve this problem is reduce the weight of your bag, and to periodically switch up the side you carry it.
Switching your bag over to the opposite side will help to balance out the way your body carries the weight, relieving any tension built up in your muscles, and solving any posture problems too! Switch it up every 10 minutes, or every time you walk a couple hundred feet.
3. How We Sleep
Another daily habit that brings on neck pain is the way we sleep. You see, if you sleep with your head propped up on more than one pillow, your neck and back aren’t going to be nicely in line – meaning more pressure on your muscles and spine.
And if you find yourself sleeping on your stomach, your head is most likely going to be turned on it’s side – meaning your body is in a twisted position for hours!
Now, can you see why you might wake up with a bit of a sore neck? Although your neck is built to rotate from side to side, it’s not designed to stay in that position for hours on end. So if you choose to sleep on your side, use a pillow that doesn’t prop your head too high up, but in-line with your shoulder instead. And if you choose to sleep on your back, sleep with one thin pillow so your neck and spine are nicely straight!
I’d like to tell you a bit about one of our clients who finished her physical therapy a few weeks ago. Pam, aged 54, of Las Cruces came to us about 6 weeks back. She had been out in her garden trying to keep ahead of the forest of weeds coming on after one of those heavy summer rains. One of the bigger weeds was especially confident that it could keeps it’s roots in the ground, so she gave it an especially strong pull and BAM! - immediate onset of back pain, along with a burning, searing shock all the way down her right leg to the foot. Pam barely made it into the house, and eventually found some relief lying face down flat on her bed.
After many days of pain and difficulty moving - one friend told her to rest even longer - Pam decided to see her doctor, who sent her to us. [She didn’t actually have to see her doctor first, but that can wait for another day.] It didn’t take much time for her physical therapist to identify the problem. It seems that she suffered a bad strain of the muscles in her low back, and there may have also been some involvement of a disk there as well. It didn’t take too much time to get the muscles to calm down, though she continued to have the shooting down the leg anytime she spent to much time sitting, and driving in the car was awful! This was a big problem since Pam works in El Paso, so that hour-long drive didn’t help matters any. What’s more, Pam spends much of her time in her garden, and the weeds were getting higher! She so much wanted to get back in there and tend to her beans and tomatoes.
The fun part about practicing as a physical therapist is that very often, pain onset and relief is tied to body position. We change positions, and the presence or absence of pain in those positions tells us a lot about what structures in the body are involved in the problem. But Pam didn’t care about that! “JUST GET ME BACK IN MY GARDEN” she said. Well, we sorted out the problem, and got her started on a daily program focused on reducing her pain. It was a bit of a challenge, as the drive to work bumped up her symptoms a lot, but we worked with her on her position in the car, as well as some simple movements to do before and after she got to work.
It didn't take much time before Pam was feeling a lot better, and at the end of the treatment period not only was Pam in the garden (bending and lifting the right way, I might add), but she was also doing the right stretches and exercises each day. They don’t take a lot of time, and she says that they help her feel limber and warmed up for the day.
Pam called me the other day and told me how thankful she was that she didn’t listen to one friend’s advice to just stay home and rest. She said that she’d never been to physical therapy before, and before this really didn’t understand what PT is all about, but now she understands that her PT was completely focused on getting her back into her garden.