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According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), almost 31 million days of work are lost each year due to neck, back and muscle problems. Technology plays no small part in the fact that neck pain is a modern-day epidemic. We adopt sedentary postures when using our mobile phones, tablets and laptops and are, therefore, putting excessive pressure on our necks.
Take a look around when you are at work, in a café, on the train, at people on their mobile phones and iPads and you will see how hunched over they are. This forced position is putting a strain on the neck as it tries to support the weight of the head – the average adult head weights around 10Ibs.
Osteopaths are used to seeing people for back pain but the increasing problem with necks and neck pain means the problem is now pretty much shared 50/50.
Young people are at risk
This epidemic is of particular concern when considering the number of children who regularly play on phones and tablets, whether their own or their parents’, as their bones have not yet fully formed. There’s a young generation growing up who, by the time they reach adulthood, will have formed permanent rounded shoulders and a concave chest. For children with asthma this is particularly dangerous but in general it can also cause serious respiratory and breathing difficulties. Once the body has formed itself into this position it will be difficult for anyone to take in a normal amount of air into the lungs during each breath. Young bones, when allowed to fully grow into this malformed position will be there permanently. If the problem is not addressed early on it will be impossible to reverse.
The back is the foundation for the neck and when both are working optimally together they keep the head supported and facing forward. The whole structure of the body is organised in such a way as to distribute tension spatially and this is a structure that needs to be kept finely tuned.
Headaches and migraines
An increasing number of people are consulting their GPs complaining of headaches and migraines. Without doubt, eighty per cent of these will be posture related.
Daily, I see people on a cocktail of drugs prescribed to treat the symptoms rather than the cause. If the neck is not aligned with the spine it is going to cause pain and stiffness and that pressure, in turn, will cause pain in the head. Pain is incredibly debilitating; once it is corrected all the stress just disappears from the face and it is possible for people to get their lives back again. It’s all about creating resilience to prevent a problem.
Neurologists and GPs still haven’t caught up the what is happening to necks in the 21st century. They haven’t been trained about many of the underlying postural causes of neck pain and they are not necessarily making the connection between this and the increasing number of complaints about headaches that people are turning up at their surgeries with.
What can be done to avoid it?
Pillows – There’s a very fine line between too many pillows and too few that offer a shallow support allowing the neck to start sinking at an angle. Orthopaedic pillows are normally the best because they are shaped according to the contour of the neck.
Stress – It’s hard to say to someone ‘take the stress out of your life’ but stress is one of the biggest contributing factors in neck pain. When we are stressed our natural go-to position is to mildly tense the shoulders sub-consciously without us thinking about it. When people are stressed they also often find themselves grinding their teeth and clenching their jaw and this also causes neck pain.
Hydration – It’s not commonly known that dehydration affects the neck muscles but if these are not hydrated they can feel heavy and lead-like.
Exercise – Being active, light exercise and breathing exercises while keeping an eye on your work/life balance will all help.
Stretches – Adults should factor in regular neck stretches into their daily routine. Anyone sitting over a desk at a computer can do some very simple exercises that will help keep the neck supple. Looking down or leaning over for long periods causes stiffness and will result in neck pain as the neck is having to work hard to support the head in that position.
Take a moment to look as far to the left as you can, turning your head that way, hold, then tilt the head up, hold, tilt the head down, now repeat on the right. Looking forward drop your chin down, hold, now look up lifting your chin, hold, turn to the left then to the right back and forth slowly, drop your right ear towards your right shoulder, hold, repeat on the left, then turn to the right and hold, look up, hold, look down, hold, finally tip your head forward and then look left, then right, pausing in between. The entire sequence should take about two to five minutes and should be done every two to three hours.
Tech breaks – Parents need to be aware when their children are sitting for prolonged periods. They should make sure they are not slouched and put a time limit on technology otherwise they are storing up long-term pain.
Pilates and Yoga – These are both excellent for helping to improve posture by keeping the joints supple and the surrounding muscles strong and supportive of the head.
Osteopathy – Visiting the osteopath on a regular basis will keep things on track. Sometimes we have to accept there are some things we can’t do for ourselves and an osteopath can see problems that might be starting to arise. It only takes one wrong move if your neck is not in a good state – and with no warning you can find the nerves have been pinched and that you are in extreme pain.
Heat – Neck pain is extremely debilitating, especially if there is no obvious reason for what is causing it. If there really is no hope of getting to an osteopath and the pain has already taken hold, try heating up a wheat pack and placing it around the neck. When the muscles have warmed up, and only then, try to perform a few gentle stretches. But never try that when the neck is cold or stiff when you first wake up as you could do even more damage.
Be mindful of the causes of neck pain and do your best to avoid them. Combined with regularly stretching the neck muscles, you should be able to avoid neck pain and its associated issues. If you are unfortunate enough to be suffering, then get help, even if it’s DIY help at first – as soon as you can. There is no need to keep suffering – there are plenty of gentle ways to treat a painful neck.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Oliver Eaton is a qualified and registered Osteopath, Medical Acupuncturist and Musculoskeletal Injection Therapist. He specialises in the treatment of arthritis and headaches/migraines with patients all over the UK and Europe. Much of Oliver’s specialties were learnt through personal experience; suffering from a series of chronic conditions from which he made a full recovery using alternative medicine approaches. This sparked his passion for specialising in the treatment of patients with chronic pain. At 28 years old Oliver is one of the youngest Harley Street clinic owners, achieving results with patients who have previously had no success with some of the top medical consultants in the country. Visit prohealthclinic.co.uk