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How Your Desk, Phone, TV Can Impact the Neck

crick in the neck

By: Cierra Washington, ATC

Raise your hand if you’ve ever fallen asleep in an awkward position and had the unexpected pleasure of waking up to a “crick in your neck.” I’ve always used the phrase, “crick in my neck” but I never exactly knew what it referred to other than general neck discomfort. When most people complain of a “crick” in their neck, they are referring to either pain or stiffness, most likely in the form of a cramp or spasm. Awkward sleeping positions can be a culprit, however, understand that there are many other causes for neck pain and stiffness. These can include:

  • Improper posture
  • Playing particular sports
  • Improper setup at work

Let’s look at each of these culprits.

Culprit number one: sleeping. Sleeping should be an activity that we all do in order to wake up fully refreshed and ready to take on the day. However, when we wake up with neck discomfort or pain, it immediately gets us off on the wrong side of the bed. Before you go to bed each night, it’s important to think about which position provides you with the most comfort and spinal support. For instance, those who sleep on their side tend to need additional pillows to prop their head up so it stays in line with their spine and isn’t lower. For those who sleep on their back, it is recommended that they sleep with a contoured pillow to support the natural curvature of the cervical spine. Last but not least, stomach sleepers. Although stomach sleeping is considered the worst position, there are ways to do it with less back discomfort. If you must sleep on your stomach, choose a flatter pillow that allows your spine to stay as close to neutral as possible. The only downfall is rotating the head to one side for 6-8 hours while sleeping, resulting in stretched muscles on one side and extremely tight muscles on the other.

Culprit number two: improper posture. When someone is constantly in a forward head position, or when they have to rotate their head in one direction for an extended period of time, they risk adding additional stress to the neck muscles. In the clinic, we receive plenty of complaints about neck stiffness, discomfort and pain. A very high percentage of these patients display poor upper back and neck posture. When one area of the body is weak, the counterpart has to work twice as hard to stabilize or produce a function. Most patients that come in with this complaint have rounded shoulders, forward head posture and extremely tight pectoral muscles. With that being said, the pectoral muscles are often shortened causing excessive pulling on the front of the chest and neck, which forces the muscles in the back of the neck to constantly be stretched. Often times, that increased stretch on the neck muscles can cause the muscles to feel “strained.” This leads to increased stress and tension, which in turn “locks” the muscles up.

Culprit number three: particular sports. Athletics can also be a main cause of the “crick” in your neck, especially when looking at sports that involve quick and aggressive movements of the shoulders and neck, such as golf and tennis. In these examples, the shoulders and arms are the main functioning parts. Keep in mind though that the entire body is a moving connected chain. When golfing, you must keep your eye on the ball while swinging back, making connection, and following through. Think about looking down while completing all phases of a golf swing. Your head and neck are staying locked in place while your body rotates from three different positions as you pick up force and speed. During the process, the neck musculature is constantly working to stabilize with every swing and as the minutes, hours and swings go on the tension steadily increases leading to stiffness and maybe even intermittent pain.

Culprit number four: improper setup. This could be a work station, your television at home or even your phone in your hand. Each one of the activities just listed should be done with proper setups. Work stations should be set up to minimize all discomfort. When it comes to computer screens and arm placement on the desk there a few things you want to keep in mind.

  1. Place the monitor directly in front of you. If there are dual screens, position them in a semi-circle to ensure a consistent focal distance.
  2. Place the monitor at eye level.
  3. Position the top usable line of the monitor at a height that ensures your neck is straight.
  4. Look away from your computer every 20 minutes.

Now let’s say you’re like most people who think “oh, it’s not that bad”. When not handled appropriately, this small “crick” in your neck can lead to tension headaches, facet joint dysfunction and the inability to perform daily tasks safely. The tension headaches develop as the muscles continue to tighten and pull at the base of the skull, which is turn can become quite debilitating. Facet joint dysfunction can occur when the muscles have tighten so much that they have caused the vertebrae to get out of alignment and become stuck under one another. This limits the range of motion in many directions. Think about driving when you are unable to fully turn you head in one or both directions. Not only are you risking your life by shrinking your line of sight, but you’re also a threat other drivers.

So what can be done to minimize that “crick” in your neck. Aside from sleeping positions, you can also work to stretch out the neck muscles every day or as often as you feel them tightening up. You can also work on correcting your posture with all activities of daily living, as well as applying heat to the muscles so they can relax. It’s important to remember that in order to address any kind of pain or discomfort for good, you need to handle the root cause of that problem. In most cases, the root cause of neck pain is tightness and bound up muscles in the neck. Heat, massage and medication will handle this discomfort temporarily, but not for good. Physical therapy is an effective and conservative treatment option to relieve that “crick” in your neck FOR GOOD! Not only will we give you stretches to loosen the area, perform manual therapies to release any trigger points or increasingly tight areas, but we’ll also teach you how to strengthen the surrounding muscles and how to prevent this from happening again. Here at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center you receive a one-on-one evaluation with our well-educated doctors of physical therapy, who will prescribe you a personalized plan of care that is tailored to your individual goals! Call our office TODAY at 703-450-7300.

CLICK HERE for more on how physical therapy can help you.

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