Neck pain – the causes, how to treat it, and how to avoid it

Neck pain is a modern day epidemic due, in no small, part to our love of technology. The sedentary postures people are adopting when using their devices are putting excessive pressure on our necks.

Take a look at people on their phones or iPads and you will see how hunched over they are. This forced position is putting a strain on the neck as it tries to support the weight of the head – the average adult head weights around 10Ibs.

Osteopaths are accustomed to treating people for back pain but the increasing problem with necks and neck pain means the problem is pretty much shared 50/50.

This is especially worrying among young children who regularly play on their parent’s phones and tablets, as their bones are not yet fully formed. There is now a young generation growing up who, by the time they move into adulthood, will have formed permanent rounded shoulders and a concaved chest. For anyone with asthma this is particularly dangerous but generally it can also cause serious respiratory and breathing difficulties. Once the body has formed itself into that position it will be difficult for anyone to take in a normal amount of air into the lungs during each breathYoung bones, when allowed tofully grow into this malformed position will be there permanently.

The back is the foundation for the neck and when both are working optimally together they keep the head supported and facing forward. The whole structure of the body is organised in such a way as to distribute tension spatially and this is a structure that needs to be kept finely tuned.

What other problems are associated with neck pain?

GPs are seeing an increasing number of people complaining of migraines and headaches and without doubt, 80 per cent of these will be posturerelated. If the neck is not aligned with the spine its going to cause pain and stiffness and that, in turn, will cause pain in the head. Pain is incredibly debilitating, once it is corrected all the stress just disappears from the face and it is possible for people to get their lives back again. It’s all about creating resilience to prevent a problem.

What can be done to avoid it?

Stretches – adults should factor in regular neck stretches into their daily routine. Anyone sitting over a desk at a computer can do some very simple exercises that will help keep the neck supple. Looking down or leaning over for long periods causes stiffness and will result in neck pain as the neck is having to work hard to support the head in that position.

Take a moment to look as far to the left as you can, turning your head that way, hold, then tilt the head up, hold, tilt the head down, now repeat on the right. Looking forward drop your chin down, hold, now look up lifting your chin, hold, turn to the left then to the right back and forth slowly, drop your right ear towards your right shoulder, hold, repeat on the left, then turn to the right and hold, look up, hold, look down, hold, finally tip your head forward and then look left, then right, pausing in between. The entire sequence should take about two to five minutes and should be done every two to three hours.

Parents need to be aware when their children are sitting for prolonged periods. They should make sure theyre not slouched and put a time limit on technology otherwise they are storing up long-term pain.

Pilates and Yoga are both excellent for helping to improve posture by keeping the joints supple and the surrounding muscles strong and supportive of the head.

Regular visits to the osteopath will keep things on track. Sometimes we have to accept there are some things we can’t do for ourselves, and an osteopath can see problems that might be starting to arise. It only takes one wrong move if your neck is not in a good state – and with no warning you can find the nerves have been pinched and that you are in extreme pain.

Hydration is definitely something to consider. It is not commonly known that dehydration affects the neck muscles but if these are not hydrated they can feel heavy and lead-like.

Theres a fine line between too many pillows and too few that offer a shallow support allowing the neck to start sinking at an angle. Orthopaedic pillows are normally the best because theyre shaped according to the contour of the neck.

Stress is one of the biggest contributing factors in neck pain. When were stressed our natural go-to position is to mildly tense the shoulders, without thinking about it. When people are stressed they also often find themselves grinding their teeth and clenching their jaw and this also causes neck pain.

By being mindful of the causes of neck pain, doing your best to avoid them and regularly stretching the neck muscles, you should be able to avoid neck pain and its associated issues. If you are unfortunate enough to be suffering, then get help as soon as you can. There is no need to keep suffering – there are plenty of gentle ways to treat a painful neck.

Oliver Eaton is a qualified and registered osteopath, medical acupuncturist and musculoskeletal injection therapist. He specialises in the treatment of arthritis and headaches / migraines with patients all over the UK and Europe


  • Clever Trevor

    Deadlifts cure most muscle pain, and can be very effective in ameliorating sciatica.

    Correct form is essential and so if you do lift – and everyone should – get someone to show you how.

    No need to go heavy. 60 kilos is enough for most people to get a lasting benefit – including increased bone density, preservation of muscle mass, improved mood and balanced strength development across most of the major muscle groups.

    Muscle pain often derives from stiffness caused by posture or the fact we favour one side over another. Exercising these muscles on both sides of the body simultaneously often eliminates this discomfort permanently