Neck pain is a very common problem. A large percentage of the population will suffer from neck pain over the course of their lifetime.

Managing neck pain

Thankfully, neck pain can usually be managed and controlled. This self-help guide can help put you in control of your own neck pain.

Understanding your neck pain

The first step in relieving your neck pain is to understand the mechanics of your neck. If you can determine where the pain is coming from, you are on your way to taking control and finding relief.

Your spine extends from the base of your skull to the top of your pelvis. The bones of your neck are called cervical vertebrae. Between each vertebra are discs which are fibrous shock absorbers that allow the spine to stay flexible while supporting the weight of your head and neck. Another important component of your neck are the joints that link each vertebra to the one above and the one below, and surrounding these are multiple layers of ligaments and muscles, all working together to make a very stable structure.

Your spinal cord lies within a continuous body tunnel known as the spinal canal. It is made up of rings of bone attached to the back of each vertebra. Branches from the cord exit the canal between adjacent vertebrae and create the nerves that travel throughout the body.  The nerves that allow your spine to feel pain are the same nerves that cause your limbs to feel pain. When signals originating from a disc or neck joint are felt down arm, we call it referred pain. This effect is common and typical of most mechanical neck problems. This type of pain is different from that of an inflamed nerve, which can also travel into the arms but is far less common.

How to identify your pattern

It’s important to know that if you are among the vast majority of neck pain sufferers, you are probably experiencing a mechanical problem. This means that the source of your symptoms is likely to be coming from one of the neck’s physical components: the muscles, the ligaments, the bones, the discs or the joints. The good news is that mechanical neck pain almost always falls into one of the common patterns below.

Simple ways to reduce your pain

Now that you’ve identified your particular pattern of pain, there are some simple ways to control your symptoms and get back to normal pain-free living.

For fast relief

  • Improve your neck posture in sitting positions. This can be achieved through using a straight-back chair, and use a lumbar cushion to support the curve in the lower back, and/or using a foot stool.
  • Use pillows and a neck roll, either sitting or lying, to position your neck until the symptoms in your arm are relieved.
  • Remember to change postures regularly. Often when seated, the head will be protruded forwards, through standing this will then pull the head back over the shoulders and decrease strain on certain tissues. By changing position regularly you can avoid one group of tissues getting overloaded.

Daily tips

  • Remember to try and keep your earlobes in line with your shoulders and hips.
  • If you are involved in prolonged work looking overhead, take regular stretch breaks, by touching your chin onto your chest two to three times each hour.
  • Maintain proper neck posture at all times

If the pain has not subsided within a couple of days then talk to your physiotherapist and they will likely provide a home exercise programme to address some of the mechanical concerns. These will typically include pain controls, a series of stretching and lower limb strengthening exercises and may be done in conjunction with hands on techniques like massage, taping and dry needling.

This information is intended as a guide only. For specific information regarding injury assessment and management, you should always consult your health professional.