How to Prevent Neck Pain at Work and at Home

Maintaining proper posture during all activities both at work and at home, including sleeping, will help prevent us from developing neck pain. Setting up our workstations ergonomically, stretching and taking breaks throughout the workday will decrease the strain on our neck muscles and help prevent neck pain.

For those with a desk job, can you explain how proper workplace ergonomics can help prevent neck pain?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. If we are sitting at a desk, on average, the six to eight hours that corporate Americans have to sit at that desk, ergonomics is really, really, important, because essentially your environment over time can break us down. So, on both a biomechanical, so how we move, and a physiological level, how we function level, we are built to move. We were hunters and gatherers, that’s why we are bipedal. We have feet, we’re upright, and we move. Sitting is foreign to us, and we obviously adapted to sit, but unfortunately, we’re not built to sit.

If we have a desk job, and you have to sit for a living essentially, having proper workplace ergonomics is really key. Because, essentially, what it does, it teaches us how to sit properly, teaches us how to sit in good posture. When we’re sitting in good posture, then we can minimize the stress that we put particularly in our neck, and our shoulders, and our upper back, because when we have poor ergonomics, we’re in poor posture. It just increases the repetitive stress into the neck, the upper back, the shoulders. Unfortunately, over time, that repetition just breaks us down. If you do sit for a living, I’d soon reach out to HR, have them perform an ergonomic assessment, jump online, there’s loads of good YouTube videos out there, even jump on our website and check it out. But, you’ve certainly got to control your variables, and control how you sit and how long you sit for, is something that we should all be taking very seriously.

What are some tips for people with active jobs that include a lot of repetitive motion to help prevent neck pain?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Similar to people who sit. If you’re doing anything repetitively, then we’ve got to make sure we’re doing it correctly. Obviously, people in the trade industry, pipe fitters, painters, decorators, people who essentially have to work above your head for extended periods of time, put a lot of stress into the neck, the upper back, the shoulders. If you’re doing that, you just have to make sure you’re doing and performing that task as efficiently as possible. So, make sure you’re in good posture. If you’re lifting above your head, it’s not too heavy, and you’re just following through on those protocols that you would have had going through all sorts of training with HR and the ergonomic assessment team, because obviously they want you working pain-free, otherwise they’re on their worker’s comp case. Similar to your sitting, essentially, you just got to make sure you’re doing what you’re doing correctly, and make sure your taking plenty of breaks throughout the day to break up that repetition.

How can investing in the right pillow and mattress for sleeping help prevent neck pain?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah, it’s a great question, and one we get asked all the time in the clinic. What’s a good pillow for me and what’s a good bed for me? When we’re asleep we need to have good support to the spine. If you’ve got too many pillows and it pushes your head up so your chin’s sitting on your chest, you’re obviously going to put your neck in a state of stress. That’s when you’re going to wake up with those kinks in your neck. Again, if you’ve got too little pillows and your neck’s in extension and it’s shifted all the way backwards, you’re going to create a lot of impingement. A good rule of thumb, particularly when we’re discussing pillows, if you like to sleep on your back, just make sure your nose is in line with your sternum, so the mid part of your chest. And then your ear is actually on top of your shoulder.

If you like to lay on your side, similar. 90-degree bend in your shoulder so your head’s not on your shoulder or being pushed away, and your nose is in line with your sternum. All that’s going to do is just put your neck in a good posture, so when you sleep you’re not putting stress into the joint, the tissue, onto the nerve, which essentially is going to create pain when we wake up.

What are some general tips for preventing neck pain during day-to-day activities such as exercising, running errands, cleaning the house, et cetera?

I think the big two that stick out for me are obviously all of those. If we’re exercising, anything you’re doing that requires you to press anything above your head, so like a shoulder press using a barbell or dumbbell, you want to make sure that you’re lifting correctly. So, you’ve got good posture when you move your shoulders, your head’s not pitching forward, putting a lot of stress and strain into the neck. Obviously working with whoever’s running the class or one of the gym members to check that for you.

If we’re out running errands, most people run errands in the car. So again, if you in the car and you’re sitting for extended periods of time, make sure your car seat’s set up so you’re in good posture. Your ears on top of your shoulder, your shoulder blades are flush against the car seat, and you’re making sure you’re not driving for an extended period of time.

Also if you’re going to clean house, if you clean the house, usually where we see neck pain is because we’re working above our head. So, just make sure that you’re not reaching too far. You’re not putting excess stress into the neck. Obviously, you’re taking plenty of breaks. That’s pretty much it.

What are some stretches or exercises people should be doing regularly to prevent neck pain?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah, stretching and exercising should be part of everyone’s weekly routine, something we should do periodically throughout the day or throughout the week. Again, if you’re sitting for a living and we shift into poor posture, what happens is that postural shift lengthens all the tissue, but it also shortens a lot of tissue. If you are sitting for living, you want to make sure you’re concentrating on three big structures. Your trap which is that big muscle that anchors your shoulder into your neck. A muscle called your levator, which anchors your shoulder blade into your neck. Also, you want to make sure you focus on your chest, because when our head shifts forward and our shoulders round forward, that classic corporate posture that we see, those muscles are muscles that get lengthened and become really sniff and tight, and or they become short and yet really stiff and tight. You want to make sure you’re spending literally postural breaks at work where you take five minutes between morning and afternoon, afternoon and evening, where you’ll spend three to five minutes just stretching those structures.

Now, it’s also important to make sure that all the little muscles, the postural muscles in our neck, all those neck flexors that sit right between our chin and our top of our chest, and then all the muscles that essentially sit right between our shoulder blades. Unfortunately, when we sit, we’re not moving, so those muscles, essentially more postural muscles, and it’s the body’s economical. Those muscles become weak over time. So again, the muscles we’ve just gone over, the big muscles in your chest and your shoulders dominate. It’s kind of this negative effect. When you’re sitting at work, again, make sure we’re taking some postural breaks, similar to the ergonomic setup. You want to be spending three to five minutes in the morning, the afternoon, evening, activating all those muscles in front of your neck and the muscle between our shoulder blades.

There are loads of good exercises on YouTube. You jump on our website, there’s a bunch of videos and actually a PDF guide you can download that shows you the stretches you should be doing and shows you the exercises you should be doing periodically at work. If you’re sitting well, you’re stretching often, and you’re activating those posture muscles, you have a far better chance to preventing neck pain than someone who’s not doing any of those.

Learn More

If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Luke Stringer visit www.southloopchiropractor.com or call (312) 987-4878 to schedule an appointment.

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