Life is not kind to the neck; whether it’s craning around to merge lanes on the interstate, or hunching over in front of a computer screen all day, many of the things we do day in and day out are terrible for our necks. Even seemingly innocuous things like sleeping with multiple pillows or cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder have the potential to seriously impact neck health. If we do not take the time to consider how our daily routines are impacting our health, and take steps to correct the problem areas that we identify, we drastically increase our chances of suffering from conditions like neck pain.
Furthermore, neck pain rarely starts overnight; it generally evolves gradually over time. It may be caused by natural disease processes arthritis or degenerative disc disease, or exacerbated by poor posture, declining muscle strength, stress, and even a lack of sleep. In any case, the good news is that neck pain’s gradual onset affords you time to take steps to prevent it. And if you still develop it, these same steps can help you detect it in its early stages and fight back.
To that end, we’ve compiled a list of six things you can do today to help prevent or mitigate neck pain.
Pay Attention to Your Posture
Posture is one of the most important things to consider when trying to prevent neck pain. Try not to stay in one position for too long. Get up and move around at your desk and at home to keep your neck–and your whole body–loose and limber throughout the day. It’s hard to correct bad posture, but by concentrating on staying mobile you can limit the impact of bad postural habits.
If your job or hobbies require you to sit at a desk, consider making some ergonomic adjustments to optimize your workspace. Your computer monitor should be positioned at eye level so you look straight ahead at it without bending your neck up or down. If you use the phone frequently, invest in a headset so you avoid the temptation to cradle your phone in between your ear and shoulder. Taking simple steps to reduce the strain you place on your neck can go a long way towards preventing chronic neck pain.
Take Care of Your Eyes
If you have poor eyesight or a prescription that is no longer adequate for your eyes, you may tend to lean forward or back to read or watch the object of your attention. So keeping your prescription up to date and visiting the optometrist if your eyes worsen will help prevent you from having to overextend your neck to read, write, or otherwise engage with the world around you.
Ditch the Extra Pillows
Many people like to sleep with mounds of pillows underneath their head. While this might be comfortable in the short run, it has the tendency to jam your neck into awkward positions, causing those “cricks” in the morning that we hear about so often. Your head should remain relatively flat at night, with your neck supported, to prevent neck pain throughout the day.
Know Your Body–and Listen to It
It is very important for us all to know and listen to our body’s limits. If you think it might be a struggle for you to bring in that fifty-pound bag of dog food or move that chair across the room, ask for help. The easiest way to bring about neck pain is to ask your body to do too much.
Know your limits!
Get Your Eight Hours
If modern medicine has found a panacea, it is sleep. Poor sleep hygiene has been linked to the development and exacerbation of a number of serious conditions, including musculoskeletal pain. Take steps like reducing caffeine in the afternoon, eliminating blue light in the hours before bed, and maintaining a comfortable sleeping environment to ensure you maximize your rest or lower your risk of developing neck pain.
Neck pain can be influenced by our daily activities more than just about any other musculoskeletal condition. Taking steps to ensure your posture, physical spaces, and behavior all work together to promote neck health can go a long way towards preventing neck pain in the long run. Furthermore, these steps do not require expensive gadgets or treatments, so they are relatively easy to implement and maintain, and will pay dividends over time.