Getting the right, timely advice when it comes to neck and head pain is important. Whilst neck pain and stiffness is very common, and rarely serious, there are lots of causes for these issues which require investigation, to avoid wasting appropriate treatment time. It is important to get a regulated trained professional to assess and treat your neck because of the complexity of how neck symptoms relate to other issues, and to match the treatment to the likely cause of your discomfort. A case history and physical examination may be sufficient to determine whether anything of greater concern may be present. They can organise for further investigation to be done.

The well-known adage of ‘it’s all connected’ applies when considering the causes of neck, shoulder and head pain. Neck pain can be felt in the middle of the neck or on one side. The pain may travel to the shoulder or shoulder blade, and may even go down your arm.

Repeated sustained postures, changes due to pregnancy, the needs and impacts of particular sports, joint degeneration such as osteoarthritis, sinus issues, jaw (TMJ) dysfunction, trauma, arthritis, lung issues (including a distant history of smoking), heavy lifting, sustained periods of sitting or driving are all frequent contributing factors to causing and perpetuating neck pain and headaches. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what causes neck pain, but that doesn’t mean we can’t alleviate the symptoms.

Sometimes neck pain is associated with headaches. Your neck may feel stiff, make it difficult to turn or move your head, or you could get a sharp pain on some movements. There are many joints, muscles and other structures in the neck that can cause these symptoms.  It is important for your practitioner to differentiate the potential causes of any headache in order to identify the type(s) of headache(s) you experience in order to devise a helpful treatment plan. Where appropriate, in addition to clinical treatment such as very specific massage to assist your neck, your osteopath will offer a advice regarding products that may help your condition, including pillows, supplements, lifestyle changes and helpful self-treatment devices and strategies.

Top 6 Tips For Neck Pain

  1. Change your work postures regularly. Even if you are positioned well, change posture every 25-30 minutes, eg if sitting – stand up and, if standing – sit, or walk around a little. When possible, have an ergonomic assessment of your workplace done.
  2. Try to keep your entire body mobile. Many people have been told to sit or stand up straight and don’t understand why this (supposedly) “good posture” has failed to help them avoid stiff sore necks, shoulders and upper backs. The reason is that our bodies need regular movement and any repeated and sustained postures done too much or too often cause our bodies to prompt us to change and move.
  3. When you do stretches for your neck and shoulders, avoid putting a lot of pressure through them, and instead do them slowly and gently.
  4. Examine your regular postures. Examples of this are positions you frequently choose when relaxing, such as watching TV, using a device, reading, sleeping, and when you are driving. Adjust your car up to suit your height, arm reach, mirror angles, and pay attention to whether you are twisted, or distributing your weight in your seat unevenly.
  5. See your osteopath or General Practitioner if your neck pain is getting worse or if you are suffering from neurological symptoms. Neurological symptoms can include numbness, weakness, pins and needles, and jolting shooting pains.
  6. Getting regular sound sleep is vital to your health, so set yourself up to be comfortable for as long as possible. When you fall asleep you stay in your initial sleep position for a while, so avoid twisting and loading your neck for a long period. Set-up your neck support to ensure you are not twisting or bending your neck in an awkward position during that initial period of sleep. Stomach and side-sleeping do put a lot of pressure through the neck and both shoulders if sustained for a while. Finding the right pillow(s) is a very personal choice, but it need not be fancy, technical or expensive (but sometimes the technical pillows do help certain people).

Some causes of neck pain:

  • repetitive and sustained postures
  • repetitive motion (eg driving, sports-related, carrying a bag, or work-related)
  • some sleep habits
  • sinus issues
  • jaw clenching or teeth grinding (sometimes in your sleep without you knowing)
  • strained tissues from carrying a heavy object
  • irritated/ small joints in your neck
  • overstretched muscles between your neck and back
  • compressed nerves &/or blood vessels
  • whiplash (muscular & other soft-tissue injuries due to a fast change in position of your neck – not always related to motor vehicle collision)
  • arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
  • referred pain from shoulders
  • There are many reasons for people to have neck pain at any given time. Although, at any given time, it is estimated that around 10% of us have neck pain only about 1% of neck pain is due to serious causes.  Serious causes include infection, tumour, instability from injured/disease ligaments or bones, and compromise to different parts of the nervous system.
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