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Muscle Tightness Making Morning Commutes Even Harder?

What causes stiffness in the neck and how can we prevent this common condition?

One of the biggest contributors to neck pain and stiffness is our poor posture. A lot of us sit at a desk for work or school for several hours throughout the day. You are probably often not aware of your posture. You might not have a workstation that is set up ergonomically; your computer screens are too high or too low; we are on our phones or our tablets and looking down. Our lifestyles in general cause us to be very forward-head focused. Even in my profession as a physical therapist, I’m on my feet all day and still bent over patients, so I have to be careful of my posture as well. What are some simple things to think about in terms of checking your posture: Open up through your chest, stretch everything that’s tight in the front of your body and strengthen postural muscles in the upper back and shoulders.

Another contributor of neck pain and stiffness is the posture we use when driving. Think about when you sit in traffic or have a long commute. Our shoulder and upper back muscles can get tired and cause us to slouch forward and therefore, contribute to stiffness, tightness and pain in those neck muscles.

Another contributor to neck pain, stiffness and tightness is disc degeneration. Your discs are kind of like a jelly donuts that sit in between the vertebrae in our necks. Over time, the jelly in these discs dries up causing the discs themselves start to lose height. It makes your individual vertebrae start to come closer together and then they’re going to start to rub against each other. That’s going to cause a lot of pain.

Arthritis occurs when you have wear and tear of the cartilage, which is connective tissue in between the joints to cushion it. When you get that wear down of the cartilage, you’re getting more bone on bone contact. This causes inflammation in the joints themselves and around the joint where they move together. This causes more inflammation, degeneration, bone on bone rubbing and therefore pain. In addition to that inflammation in the joint, there is a nerve coming through there and that nerve gets irritated too. Bone spurs can also occur when arthritis is present adding to the pain.

Joint degeneration can occur as we get older. This is when the individual vertebrae in our necks start to wear down. They start to move closer together, cause more pressure on the discs, more pressure on the nerves and increased pain.

How does neck pain and stiffness impact daily activities?

  • Loss of range of motion; you might have difficulty turning your head or neck
  • Pain when doing regular daily activities or recreational activities

How does physical therapy help with neck pain? One thing that we do here at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center is manual hands-on therapy. The therapist will work with the patient to find out where their restrictions are in their initial evaluation. If it’s indicated, we’ll do joint mobilization to make sure the joints are moving the way that they should to increase your neck range of motion. We’re also going to do soft tissue work to help release trigger points, those knots you feel in your neck. This will help loosen up really tight muscles in our necks. A lot of us hold our stress in our shoulders, which causes our neck muscles that run along the top of your shoulder,  your upper trapezius, to get really tight. We’re going to stretch those really tight muscles in our front, upper bodies as well as our upper backs and shoulders. A lot of us have more forward-folded postures so physical therapy will help stretch out our chest muscles, strengthen the muscles in our upper back and shoulders so we can pull our heads back into that nice tall posture and reduce neck pain and stiffness. 

By: Kate Zanoni, LPTA

CLICK HERE for some tests for neck mobility and stiffness and call our office TODAY if you’re dealing with any kind of neck problem.

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