These days, more and more people are complaining about neck pain. And considering how much time we spend gazing down at tablets and smartphones or staring at a computer screen, that fact isn’t exactly a surprise.
But is neck stiffness permanent or serious? Well, if we allow it to continue untreated, yes, it can become a bigger issue. We can develop a stiff neck if we allow misuse and poor posture to weaken our neck muscles over a long time period. Then, when we try to turn our heads with weakened neck muscles normally, we feel that our joints aren’t moving as smoothly as before – something just feels out of place. And with neck pain, the causes are not as obvious as with some other parts.
Many people report a sudden onset of instant pain, like some kind of spasm. That’s your body entering a clenched “protective” mode – it felt that something hurt it, and it’s trying not to get hurt more. However, if you’re unaware of any chronic neck issues, you might be puzzled about what you did to injure your neck. In reality, it’s rarely one sudden movement that’s caused you a world of pain and annoyance in the neck area – it’s the constant staring at a computer monitor, day in and day out, without proper posture. And yes, the fact that we’re looking down at our smartphones instead of having them at eye level also produces the same effect.
But what can you do to reduce neck pain and improve your lifestyle? We’ll discuss some options below.
Ice or heat
Yes, neck pain remedies are basically like the books that spawned the famous Game of Thrones series: ice and fire. More specifically, you want to apply ice to your painful area for the first two to three days. Afterwards, you want to apply heat via heating pads, hot compresses, or plain old warm showers.
However, you also need to ensure you don’t accidentally leave an ice pack or a heating pad on your person as you fall asleep – that could lead to other injuries.
OTC pain relief
Of course, you should never take any medication without consulting a physician first. However, once you do, you’ll find that doctors often recommend acetaminophen and ibuprofen, along with other common over-the-counter solutions for pain relief.
This is a bit tricky, but when you experience neck pain for the first time, your instinct may be to avoid any movement in an attempt to mitigate further pain. And while avoiding painful activities and jerking movements is advisable, you should still keep moving, and slowly ‘work out’ your neck – this will reduce inflammation and stop your neck from stiffening up in the long run.
If possible, have someone gently and slowly massage your painful and sore areas. In this process, communication is crucial. And if the person doing it doesn’t have much experience at massaging, just slowly try stuff out until they hit on something that feels particularly good. Even professional massage therapists generally adapt their pressure and approach until they find something that’s enjoyable for their clients.
Check your sleeping conditions
You’d be surprised at the percentage of people who don’t even notice that the main cause of their neck pain is an improper pillow or mattress. If you want to avoid chronic neck pain, try switching out your current mattress for a firmer one, or even buying pillows specially designed for proper neck posture.
And if you’re wondering whether certain sleeping positions can lead to more neck pain, the answer is definitely yes. For instance, you may hear your doctor recommending that you sleep on your back on your side, instead of sleeping directly on your stomach.
You may accidentally twist your head into an unnatural position when you do so. And what’s worse, you’ll likely keep it that way for hours before you stir in your sleep or wake up. Plus, your lower back posture might also be negatively affected by sleeping on your stomach, seeing as your belly might sink into your bed if there isn’t enough support. That’s also why firm mattresses are a better choice.
Improve your computer posture
Another great way to avoid neck pain is to ensure you’re looking at a monitor that’s firmly kept at eye level. If you have to tilt your head up or down while using the computer, you’re buying yourself a ticket for chronic neck pain down the line. Instead, you must sit up straight and maintain an eye-level view.
Also, even if you somehow manage to maintain perfect computer posture throughout your entire workday; sitting in that position might still lead to a stiffer neck. That’s why you still need to take relatively frequent breaks from your screen.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.