The holidays are known for all kinds of things: warmth, cheer, food, family, decorations, gift giving and stress, just to name a few.
There are many reasons the holiday season is one of the best times of the year but sometimes the stress can literally be a pain in the neck.
Don’t let neck pain ruin your holiday enjoyment. Here are some solutions to find relief right away.
Fix your posture
One of the most common causes of neck pain is improper posture, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting in a way that causes your shoulders to hunch over. Wrapping presents, holding babies and extra time at a computer are all posture-related activities that could be straining your neck and back.
Abnormal posture causes increased load bearing on certain joints, ligaments and discs in the lower neck and can lead to pain. Abnormal posture also greatly increases the work necessary by neck musculature to simply hold the head up against gravity.
Maintaining good posture generally becomes a habit after a period of time but getting in to that habit can be a challenge. Many people simply forget about good posture until they experience pain. If you have a hard time remembering to correct your posture, choose a reminder color — red or green might be great choices around Christmastime — that prompts you to correct your posture every time you see it.
Take the time when standing in line to do a quick posture check. Bear your weight mostly on the balls of your feet and keep your knees slightly bent. If you end up standing for a long period of time, try shifting your weight from your toes to your heels, or from one foot to the other.
Another rule of thumb is to keep your head level with your earlobes, which should align with your shoulders.
Stretch and strengthen your neck muscles
Including a few more exercises into your workout routine could prove to be a benefit in more ways than one. Working out your neck muscles might seem like a strange form of exercise, but it’s been proven to help relieve neck pain, according to a study reported by the Arthritis Foundation.
The study followed 180 women who were experiencing chronic neck pain. One group of women did neck-strengthening exercises and the other group did none.
Three-quarters of the group of women that exercised their necks reported “considerable or complete pain relief” and even a year after the study retained higher strength and better flexibility and range of motion compared to the control group.
Simple neck stretches such as pushing your chin forward and holding for about 5 seconds and then pushing it back for 5 seconds can increase flexibility.
WebMD has a list of neck stretches and strengthening maneuvers, including neck tilting and turning. You can also purchase an elastic exercise band and speak with a health professional about neck exercises that are right for you.
Cut down on sugar
Cookies, candy, and holiday egg nog. Cutting down on sugar intake can be a tough goal during the holidays, but doing so might improve your neck pain. A research paper from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows processed sugar increases the inflammation, leading to joint pain.
You don’t have to eliminate sugar from your diet entirely, but cutting out one sweet treat a week can be a step in the right direction. You’ll be doing your waistline a favor, too.
It could be that you’re simply not sleeping well enough at night. Check out your mattress and your pillows. Are you getting the support your neck needs? If your mattress is too firm or too soft or if your pillows are too flat or too thick, your neck may kink during the night, causing the pain when you wake up in the morning.
Schedule a check-up
If you’ve tried all these treatments and you’re continuing to experience chronic neck pain, It’s probably time to make an appointment to see a doctor. Some forms of neck pain might be caused by injury or aging. Cervical spondylosis (also known as cervical osteoarthritis) occurs when the joints and bones of your neck change due to age and normal wear and tear.
The discs of the cervical spine gradually break down with age, losing fluid and becoming stiffer. As a result, spurs or abnormal growths called osteophytes may form on the bones in the neck.
These growths can cause narrowing of the spinal column, sometimes causing extreme neck pain. A doctor specializing in pain management will be able to tell you if your pain is caused by this narrowing and will be able to recommend the best course of treatment.
Dr. Alex Bigham is the owner and CEO of Novocur Pain Management Clinics and has over 18 years of healthcare experience in private practice and Ambulatory Surgical Center settings. Novocur offers advanced treatment options in a concierge type practice without the concierge price tag. Dr. Bigham appears frequently on local TV and radio programs to discuss the latest in Pain Management or related health topics.
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