Ergonomics | Neck Pain: Common Causes and How to Prevent It

Neck Pain: Common Causes and How to Prevent It

Got a niggling pain in your neck? Sadly, many others know how you feel.

Neck pain is very common, with 1 in 3 people being affected each year and up to 70% of the population experiencing it at some point in their lives.

Most common cases are not serious and pain usually goes away on its own within a few days or weeks. However, 50-85% of people with neck pain do not experience complete recovery and report pain again within 1 to 5 years; for 30% of these people, their symptoms become chronic.

Neck pain is rife amongst office workers. Like back pain, it’s a big contributor to individual and societal costs for healthcare, insurance, loss of productivity and sickness absence.

What’s causing my neck pain?

There are several potential causes of neck pain, some of which are very easily solved! Others can be trickier. Here are a few of the most common causes of neck pain:

1. Poor posture

21st century lifestyle habits are putting pressure on our posture.

Slouching over your work laptop for prolonged periods, sitting at a desk with your monitor too low or high, craning your neck to check your phone or stretching to reach your keyboard. All these things can all lead to muscle strain in your neck and shoulders, giving rise to your neck pain.

You may also be predisposed to neck pain if you take part in regular sporting activities which involve tilting your head back, such as swimming or cycling.

2. Insufficient physical activity

If your physical activity levels are insufficient, the muscles in your shoulders and neck may be weaker. This can predispose you to muscle strains when performing unusual or strenuous physical tasks.

3. Pinched nerve

A pinched nerve occurs when nearby structures compress a nerve. This can happen for a number of reasons, from slipped discs to narrowed openings in the spine where nerves pass through due to age-related degenerative changes.

4. Injury

Rear-end car collisions and other high-impact accidents often result in injuries such as whiplash. The sudden jerk of your neck forwards and then backwards can damage muscles, ligaments, discs, nerves and in more severe cases even cause bone fractures.

Pain associated with injury can also have a big psychological impact; the person might experience trauma and anxiety around their health outcomes, which can further intensify the pain.

5. Wear and tear

Chronic cases of neck pain are often related to degenerative wear and tear changes in the anatomical structures of your neck. These occur with time and can involve your joints, bones and discs.

6. Additional factors

There are several additional risk factors which can contribute to an onset of neck pain, including a previous history of neck or back pain, a stressful job, sleeping in awkward positions, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle.

What should I do if I already have neck pain?

If your pain is new, not getting better over time, persistently coming back or includes any additional symptoms such as pain radiating to your arm – see your GP or physio for an assessment, diagnosis, advice and treatment. You can also check NHS recommendations for more serious additional symptoms.

If all sinister causes have been ruled out, follow these simple tips to help relieve your neck pain:

  • Try some gentle stretching exercises - this will improve your mobility in the long-term. As you progress, you can move on to some strengthening exercises for your neck, shoulders and back, to help you maintain the right posture and get the best results.

  • Avoid strenuous activities such as heavy lifting.

  • Apply a cold pack to reduce inflammation for more acute cases of neck pain.

  • Apply a hot pack for less acute cases to relieve muscle tightness

  • Check your posture and workspace - we built our AI desk assessment VIDA to create personalised recommendations to improve your workspace.

How can I avoid neck pain?

Take the following steps to protect yourself developing from neck pain:

Improve your desk setup - you can do all the neck exercises in the world, but spending hours at your desk in a position harmful for your muscles and joints will eventually have consequences.

Take frequent breaks during the day - move around and let your muscles and mind reset.

Assess factors outside your work - Are you wearing a heavy bag on one of your shoulders every day? Have you checked your eyesight recently? Is your pillow supporting your neck in a neutral position when you sleep?

Engage in regular exercise - to help keep your body in good physical shape.

If you have any concerns about neck pain, it’s always a good idea to check with a musculoskeletal specialist, even if only as a preventive measure.

Empower your team to manage and reduce their work-related pain

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