Neck pain is…well, simply put, a pain in the neck. It can disrupt normal everyday tasks and make sleeping at night unbearable. If you’re suffering from stiff neck pain, you don’t necessarily have to rely on pain medicine or turn to surgery. There are ways to get rid of stiff neck pain through movement and exercise. These methods can help you feel better quickly and prevent further strain or injury while avoiding a future painful reoccurrence.
Stiff Neck Pain
Neck pain is one of the leading causes of disability in the world. The physical, psychological, and socioeconomic impact of neck pain is considerable. Loss of sleep, persistent headaches, lost work time and income, depression, and back pain are just a few of the ramifications of continued neck pain.
Approximately 50% of all individuals will suffer a neck pain episode at some time in their life. Most cases of acute neck pain will resolve themselves, with or without treatment, over a period of 6 weeks or less, but nearly 50% of people who experience neck pain find that it returns either sporadically or as a chronic condition.
Stiff neck pain is a term used to describe the medical condition when one experiences discomfort or pain when trying to turn, move, or flex the neck. Neck stiffness is often the result of a lack of movement and/or limited flexibility. Without addressing the underlying cause, chances of recurring symptoms greatly increases. Clinical trials have found that exercise may be beneficial, and for acute pain, muscle relaxants are effective.
For clarification, this article does not address neck pain caused by injury or trauma. In these cases it is advised to consult a medical doctor to assess the injury and together find a recommended course of treatment. Rather, this paper addresses the benefits of exercise and movement as a means of enhancing neck mobility and strength so that chances of initial or future episodes of neck pain is diminished.
Causes of Stiff Neck Pain
Causes of stiff neck pain include muscle strain or sprain, cervical spine disorders, meningitis, and subarachnoid hemorrhage. Dehydration and reduced oxygen intake due to faulty posture issues may also contribute to neck stiffness. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the most common causes of stiff neck pain…muscle tension and stress. This may be the result of lying in an awkward sleeping position or developed after a strenuous activity such as lifting or moving heavy objects.
So what causes stiff neck pain? Overly contracted neck muscles are most often the culprit behind neck stiffness. The reason for this more often than not equates with our head alignment, our overall posture, a lack of neck mobility and limited range of motion.
Our head is the crown jewel of our bodies. It sits at the highest position on our musculoskeletal structure upon a characteristic cervical spinal curve that helps us lift and keep our heads upright against the force of gravity.
The 7 cervical vertebrae that the head sits upon allows the head to move independently and freely, allowing us to twist, turn, and bend our heads in a variety of positions without relying on simultaneous movements of our torso.
Today’s common lifestyle of minimal movement, excessive sitting and downward gazing at books, cellphones, and computers is distorting the curvature of our necks. Our shoulders have begun to hunch forward, conforming to the design of the various chairs and sofas we sit on, causing our heads to slump further and further forward as gravity pulls our head downwards. When we stare downwards we shift the natural line of sight that has been handed down to us over eons of time, causing our neck to strain from the increased weight upon our cervical vertebrae.
Our neck has tolerance, but not infinite tolerance. The result is neck pain … a message that we’ve exceeded our necks tolerance for stability and alignment. Even a small forward lean of the head can significantly increase the load limit of the head upon our necks over time.
Properly aligned and upright, the normal head weighs approximately 10-12 pounds. Increase the forward lean to just 15° and the work load upon the neck increases to 27 pounds. Increase it to 60° and the weight load increases to a whopping 60 pounds!
Imagine holding a 60 pound weight at the end of your outstretched arm. While exaggerated, this approximates the force that is put on the neck day-after-day every time you lean your head forward.
How Long Does Stiff Neck Pain Last?
In most cases, pain and stiffness will go away within 1 – 6 weeks. I know … 6 weeks of neck pain sounds brutal, especially when every movement of your head reminds you of the acute pain.
But what about chronic pain? Chronic pain continues to be chronic because of continuing habits that have put excessive strain upon the neck.
Your challenge is to find out what those habits are.
The first place to look, as mentioned above, is in the posture and alignment of your head to the rest of your body. Is your head leaning forwards when you sit or walk? Are you continually sitting slumped in a chair reading a book, looking at your phone, or working on a computer screen? If so, you need to find a better way to do what you need to do in a more alignment-happy posture.
We all are guilty of leaning our heads forward. It’s become part of everyday life. All we can do is become more self aware of when we are doing this and take regular breaks during the day when we begin feeling tension in our neck or back.
A good rule of thumb is to take a break every 50 minutes from any activity that causes your lower back, shoulders, neck or head to lean forward. Take 5-10 minutes to do some gentle stretching of not only your neck but your entire body before returning to work.
Solutions To Stiff Neck Pain
The best manner to avoid and stop reoccurring episodes of stiff neck pain is to increase neck strength, increase its mobility, and extend its range of motion.
The ideal alignment of the head and neck is one in which the head is in a well-balanced position that is maintained with minimal muscular effort. This means that the head is not tilted upward or downward, and it is not tilted sideways or rotated.
Looking at a body from a side view, if you took a plumb line and dropped it vertically from the ear it would align with the shoulders, hip bone, knee and ankles.
Good alignment of the upper back is essential for good alignment of the head and neck. If the upper back slumps into a rounded position when sitting or standing, a compensatory change will occur in the position of the head and neck.
The neck is composed of a series of muscles that attach to the upper cervical vertebrae. Please watch the accompanying video for a series of exercises that will help you strengthen, mobilize and extend the range of motion of your neck.
This is the best way to avoid chronic or reoccurring episodes of stiff neck pain.
The reality of today’s lifestyle requires us bend our heads downwards for longer time periods than our necks were designed for. Computers, cell phones, and books will not be going away anytime soon.
If stiff neck pain persist beyond a few weeks and exercise doesn’t seem to help, you may want to consider massage therapy. Massage therapy is a non-invasive gentle way to relieve neck tension and pain. It is particularly beneficial when the condition can be linked back to a particular recurring incident such as a bad sleeping position or a particular incident that may have caused the infraction.
Here is a series of neck exercises that will help you find relief from current neck pain you may be having and also help lessen your chances of stiff neck pain reoccurring.
If neck pain recurs or persists, seek help from a qualified medical professional.
For some great all-round body strengthening mobility exercises be sure to check out feelamazingafter60.com. You’ll find over 75, 45 minute videos and 25, 15 minute videos that will increase your range of motion and flexibility.
You can also join my private Facebook account at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/feelamazingafter60.
Remember…nothing is more important than your health! Questions? Reach out to me and ask…I’m here to help.
There is no better way to feel amazing after 60!
I’m an active Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor who specializes in Senior Fitness and Functional Movement. Other interest include photography, travel, inspirational speaking and coaching others through any roadblocks that may be preventing full self-expression.
I firmly believe that nothing is more important in life than your health.
My mission is to continually grow, develop, and express myself fully in life while doing my part to help others discover theirs. Together we can help make the world a better place!