It is no surprise that, as a massage therapist, I am often faced with clients who need me to relieve neck pain. Fortunately, most cases of neck pain are not serious, and a skilled massage therapist can offer great relief. But that relief may be temporary. So here are some recommendations for self-help tools to prevent the recurrence of neck pain, or at minimum to assist in pain management.
Ruling out a traumatic incident, the most likely cause of neck pain is strained muscles. This can be the result of repeated movements or of maintaining a sustained position for a lengthy time. Examples include:
* Poor sitting alignment while at a desk or computer
* Working with shoulders forward, which causes the head to tilt back
* Sleeping in an awkward position
* Sitting in a car or on an airplane longer than usual
* Looking up repeatedly, such as when painting a ceiling or star-gazing
Arthritis and age-related changes make us more prone to inflammation from repeated movements or sustained positions than in younger individuals. Neck pain can also be due to emotional stress.
Walking with a stiff neck or having increasing neck discomfort can be very painful. While massage can deal with the initial pain, you will need to follow some self-help methods at home. Here are some tips:
1. Stress will aggravate neck pain, while relaxation will generally ease it. To achieve this, do deep abdominal breathing, meditation, visualization (a kind of self-hypnosis) and other relaxation techniques.
2. Take frequent breaks. If driving long distances, or flying for many hours, take frequent breaks to move around and relax in different positions. If you work long hours in one position, take regular breaks. Stretch, breathe deeply or take a drink of water.
3. Stretch your neck at various angles, so long as this does not cause pain. Understand the difference between tightness and pain.
4. If the sore area is red, warm and swollen, apply a cold pack for up to 20 minutes several times a day. Once the swelling is reduced, apply heat, which can help to relax sore muscles. Heat can aggravate a warm or swollen area, but otherwise will generally promote healing.
5. Look at the positioning of your chair, desk or other items which may be forcing you into an inappropriate working posture.
6. A lot of neck pain arises from sleeping in an awkward position. Avoid sleeping on the stomach, and use a pillow that supports the natural curve of the neck. If you sleep on your side, your pillow should be high enough to keep the spine straight, with the main support under the neck rather than the head. Back sleepers are best advised to use a neck roll under the neck with a flatter pillow for the head.
7. Finally, put two tennis balls in a sock, and tie of the sock so that the balls do not move. Place the balls below the bony point of the back of the skull (the occiput) for about 10 minutes. Lying in this way can relax the muscles at the back of the neck.
With the levels of stress we all experience these days, muscle tension is a significant cause of neck pain. These seven tips should enable you to keep neck pain at bay. In more serious cases, seek professional help.