Neck pain is usually caused by injuries and sprains associated with the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the cervical spine (upper part of the spine, or the neck), but it can also be caused by a cervical herniated disc or cervical stenosis.
Follow these 10 tips to protect your neck from injury:
- Sleep with a cervical pillow.
Cervical pillows, or orthopedic pillows, are contoured to support the spaces under the head and neck with deeper depressions where the head lies and extra support under the neck. They help keep the neck in alignment with the spine.
- Read more about pillows: Different Types of Pillows
Sleeping on your back is the best position to let your entire spine rest comfortably. If you prefer to sleep on your side or on your stomach, make sure your pillow is not too high-around 4 to 6 inches thick. This will prevent your head and neck from turning unnaturally to either side.
- Learn more about sleeping positions: Pillows for Different Sleeping Positions
- Position your computer screen at eye level.
Sit comfortably in your office chair in front of your computer and close your eyes. When you open them, your gaze should be directly in the middle of your computer screen. If it is not, use books or other items to adjust the screen height.
Do not allow your head to drift forward over your shoulders. And don't forget to take frequent breaks—get up and move around at least every 30 minutes.
For further reading on office ergonomics, see:
Be careful not to hold your phone between your ear and shoulder. A hands-free device is a great way to talk on the phone without being tempted to hold your phone incorrectly.
Keep your neck muscles strong by doing strengthening and stretching exercises frequently throughout the day. One of the simplest exercises to do often is the chin tuck exercise.
This exercise helps strengthen the muscles that pull the head into alignment over the shoulders. It also stretches the scalene and suboccipital muscles.
For a full description of how to do this exercise and others, see:
The discs between the vertebrae in the spine are made mostly of water.
Sip water throughout the day to stay hydrated, keeping the discs pliable and healthy. Ideally, try to drink 8 large glasses of water a day.
- Carry weight evenly.
A common mistake people make is carrying a heavy purse or a brief case on one side of their body. This causes the shoulders to become uneven, straining the muscles and causing pain.
Take only your essentials in your purse or briefcase, and make an effort to keep your shoulders level at all times when you carry it. Consider using a backpack that distributes weight evenly across the shoulders.
Poor posture can cause neck pain by straining muscles and ligaments that support the neck, resulting in injury over time.
The head-and-shoulders-forward posture is the most common example of poor posture that contributes to neck pain. This occurs when the neck slants forward, placing the head in front of the shoulders.
This posture causes the upper back to slump forward as well, placing a strain on the entire spine.
Irritation to the facet joints of the lower cervical vertebrae can result in muscle trigger point pains. Trigger points are small knots in the muscle or fascia that can lead to pain. There are certain massages you can do yourself to work these trigger points and lessen the pain. See Trigger Point Exercises for Neck Pain for a description of these exercises.
- See Massage Therapy
Whiplash occurs when people are rear-ended in their vehicles. The best way to protect yourself from a whiplash injury is to drive a car with a highly rated head restraint. Adjust the head restraint by following the owner’s manual.
Always practice defensive driving: When stopped in traffic, check your rear-view mirror to make sure no one is speeding up behind you. Have an escape route planned (usually the shoulder of the road) so you know where you will go if you do notice someone speeding up behind you.
Bonus tip: Stay educated.
We realize you can’t prevent all neck pain from ever occurring, but hopefully these tips will help you stay as healthy as possible. We have many pages on our website all about preventing, diagnosing, and treating neck pain.