6 ways to ease neck pain

Healthbeat

Everyday life isn't kind to the neck. You may be all too familiar with that crick you get when you cradle the phone between your shoulder and ear, or the strain you feel after working at your computer.

Neck pain rarely starts overnight. It usually evolves over time. And it may be spurred by arthritis or degenerative disc disease and accentuated by poor posture, declining muscle strength, stress, and even a lack of sleep, says Dr. Zacharia Isaac, medical director of the Comprehensive Spine Care Center at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital and director of interventional physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.

The following six tips can help you take care of your neck.

  1. Don't stay in one position for too long. It's hard to reverse bad posture, Dr. Isaac says, but if you get up and move around often enough, you'll avoid getting your neck stuck in an unhealthy position.
  2. Make some ergonomic adjustments. Position your computer monitor at eye level so you can see it easily. Use the hands-free function on your phone or wear a headset. Prop your tablet on a pillow so that it sits at a 45° angle, instead of lying flat on your lap.
  3. If you wear glasses, keep your prescription up to date. "When your eyewear prescription is not up to date, you tend to lean your head back to see better," Dr. Isaac says.
  4. Don't use too many pillows. Sleeping with several pillows under your head can stifle your neck's range of motion.
  5. Know your limits. For example, before you move a big armoire across the room, consider what it might do to your neck and back, and ask for help.
  6. Get a good night's sleep. Sleep problems increase the risk for several different conditions, including musculoskeletal pain.

Generally, neck pain is nothing to worry about. But if it's occurring with other, more serious symptoms, such as radiating pain, weakness, or numbness of an arm or leg, make sure to see your doctor. "Other key things that might make one more concerned are having a fever or weight loss associated with your neck pain, or severe pain. You should let your doctor know about these symptoms," Dr. Isaac says.

For more information on managing a stiff, achy neck, buy Neck Pain, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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