Experts estimate that up to 80% of people will experience some form of neck pain in their lifetime, and nearly half of Americans will experience it this year alone.
Whether it’s an isolated episode lasting a few days or a more chronic complaint, neck pain is “almost guaranteed,” said Dr. Ram Alluri, assistant clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine. Medicine from the University of Southern California, specializing in orthopedic surgery. in spine surgery.
Although nothing can completely prevent such discomfort, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. It starts with strengthening the muscles in your neck and spine as well as, not surprisingly, improving your posture.
Neck pain begins in the spine.
Although some neck pain is caused by accidents, falls, or other traumatic events, it most often results from everyday movements like sitting on the couch, working on the computer, eating at the table, or driving, a said Julia Bizjack, orthopedic physical therapist for the Cleveland Clinic.
When you’re young, hunched over your laptop for eight hours may not have much impact, but as you age, the discs in your spine, which act as shock absorbers, lose their effectiveness , a disease called degenerative disc disease, Dr.,” Alluri said. The main driver of the disease, which is a form of arthritis, is genetics, he said. However, avoiding unhealthy habits, such as smoking, can help prevent it, as smoking can accelerate disc degeneration.
The best way to prevent neck pain is to strengthen the paraspinal muscles, which run from the base of your skull to the length of your spine, support your back and help maintain your posture, as well as the muscles abdominals.
“If these muscles can stay strong,” Dr. Alluri said, “they can prevent increased movement at the disc and joints, which can minimize or eliminate neck pain.”
A recent meta-analysis found that strength training, stretching, and walking most likely reduced neck pain recurrence. Additionally, Dr. Bizjack said, developing muscles in your upper back, chest and core helps keep your body in an upright position, which will also help prevent neck pain.
Build the back to protect the neck
Most people lose strength in their upper back, including the paraspinal muscles, as they age, whether they have arthritis or not. This causes the shoulders and head to slump forward. The best way to counter this is to strengthen the back and shoulder muscles that keep your torso straight, rather than rounded. You can start at home without weights or equipment with a few neck-specific exercises.
A simple one to do at home or at work starts on a chair with a back. Place your hand on your forehead and push on it as hard as possible while holding your head back with your hand. Press for 10 seconds, relax and repeat three times. You can also do this exercise with your hand behind your head, pushing your head back.
Another home exercise to strengthen your core, back and shoulders is a plank, either in a push-up position or propped up on your elbows.
If you have access to weights, you can work your upper back with vertical dumbbell rows. In this exercise, hold a dumbbell in each hand while standing and bend at the waist until your chest is parallel to the floor, with your knees slightly bent. Squeeze your shoulder blades and bring the dumbbells toward your waist. If you have access to a gym, Dr. Bizjack recommends lat pull-ups over chin-ups because it’s easier to maintain proper form.
Although Dr Bizjack said there were no particular exercises she would advise people to avoid, she said it was important to maintain good form when strength training and , as always, to stop if something hurts.
Although strong paraspinal muscles will help prevent your shoulders and neck from slumping forward, it’s also important to make a conscious effort to overcome poor posture, Dr. Bizjack said. Whether you’re at the computer, driving, or watching TV, make sure your shoulders are up and back, not rounded. Your head should be aligned with your back straight and not tilted forward.
Imagine becoming as tall as possible and think about lengthening your spine as if there were a wire running from the top of your head to the ceiling. When working at the computer, adjust the height of your desk or monitor so that it is at eye level, which will prevent you from tilting your head forward while you work.
Dr. Bizjack recommended taking a post-it note, writing “posture” on it, and putting it on your computer. You can also set periodic reminders on your phone or fitness tracker to check your posture, especially if you spend long hours at your desk or in a car.
When you’re driving (or sitting in an office chair), make sure you have proper lumbar support that helps you sit up straight. Instead of leaning forward on your steering wheel, bring your head slightly toward the headrest, in line with your spine.
Finally, watch how you use your phone. Bending over it for hours will inevitably cause neck pain.
If you’re settling in for a night of reading and scrolling on your phone, Dr. Bizjack recommends resting your device on a pillow. Move your phone close enough that you can keep your head upright, instead of leaning forward, and take breaks or change positions, even lying on your back, to rest your neck.
Hilary Achauer is a freelance health and fitness writer.
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