Sore neck? Practical tips to prevent chronic pain

Neck pain can be just that – an absolute pain in the neck. So how can you fix or at least minimise neck issues?

Whether it’s caused by a less-than-ideal desk set-up, a long-distance drive or an injury, neck pain can have significant impacts if it’s not addressed.

“People just think about pain, but the big follow-on from neck pain is how it affects your mental health and your mindset and your happiness,” says physiotherapist Tim Dettmann, director of Kieser Australia.

What causes neck pain?

The causes of neck pain are many and can include a combination of arthritis, trauma, accidents, ageing, stress or sustained poor posture, says occupational therapist Fiona Thomas.

Then there’s other contributors such as your desk set-up and how you interact with technology such as phones, iPads, laptops or even TV, says Tim.

Some desk set-ups thrown together at the start of the pandemic are causing havoc, along with our reliance on our devices, and the way we hold them, he says.

“You don’t need a physio degree to know that if you get caught in the Instagram trance, or the Facebook trance on your couch – there’s no ergonomically good way to do that.”

Easy ways to improve your neck health

Get some height

So what should you do if your desk set-up is below par?

“All people need to do is invest $50 in a wireless keyboard and a wireless mouse and put their laptop on two shoeboxes and they’ll improve their ergonomics 90 per cent,” says Tim.

Don’t over reach

It’s also important to keep items you use regularly within a comfortable reach zone, says Fiona.

“When we look for something we tend to turn the head first to sight it and then the body follows so if items are in front this reduces a lot of unnecessary twisting.”

Keep moving

Fiona says any static posture is difficult to maintain over prolonged periods, so get up and move around regularly.

This can be difficult if we are focusing on a task, as people are reluctant to break their concentration so will push through or lose sense of time,” she saysw

She recommends setting an alarm – away from your desk – as a reminder to get up, stretch or take a short walk.

Screen time – with a stand

If you’re on a screen, it should always be set up at eye level to keep your spine in a neutral position, says Tim.

But very few of us lie on the couch holding our iPad or phone in that way.

Tim suggests buying a stand or holder, or at least a good case that folds into a triangle at the back, so you can rest the device on your knees.

Get stronger

While stretching is great for relief, it won’t prevent neck pain, according to Tim.

He says strengthening your muscles, including your shoulder, upper back and neck muscles should help.

“It’s counter-intuitive to a lot of people – they think, ‘oh I’m in pain, I can’t exercise, I definitely can’t do weights’.

“But as a physio, that’s the first thing that I would get someone to do.”

Written by Larissa Ham.