How to prevent or alleviate neck pain

This article is edited by Professor Diana Tomasi, Professor of Exercise and Sports Sciences, for over 30 years, at the Liceo G. B. Quadri in Vicenza and Head of the middle distance sector of Atletica Vicentina (an important Italian athleltics team).

The cervical spine is made up of the seven vertebrae located in the upper part of the spine. Normally the vertebrae that are under the head (atlas, axis, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae) have a so-called physiological lordosis, or a slight forward curvature.

We are talking about a stretch of the rachis (vertebral column) that is delicate and often causes pains that have a very varied etiology. Cervical pain, or pain in the cervical tract of the spine, can in fact be caused by different factors, such as stress, anxiety, poor physical exercise or incorrect postures or the outcome of various traumas, such as a stroke whiplash injury or an injury resulting from sports. There are also situations deriving from dysmorphism of the spine, such as scoliosis or kyphosis and lordosis that are too accentuated or pathological, but fortunately they are less frequent and often already detected with normal radiological examinations. Among the major risk factors – perhaps not by gravity but by diffusion – there are probably both incorrect postures and an excess of sedentary lifestyle.

Since working in front of the computer is now one of the most popular occupations, we begin to remember that some incorrect or not very ergonomic positions can create problems in the cervical spine. So let’s remember to use a table / desk of adequate height (from 70 to 80 cm.), Put your feet on the ground and have a space under the table that allows the mobility of the legs. The distance from the monitor should be between 50 and 70 c. and the seat must be placed at a height such as to allow the legs to form a 90 ° angle between thigh and leg proper. The forearms must rest on the table and the monitor and keyboard must be tiltable. The position of the mouse must also respect the ergonomic criteria useful to avoid fatigue and contractures.

Even paying attention to the position we assume while sleeping and the pillow we place under the head (perhaps replacing it with an orthopedic pillow) can help us improve the situation.

A sedentary lifestyle does not help: maintaining a constant exercise regime helps to strengthen and keep the muscles and joints of the neck toned and elastic.

Precisely because there can be many causes for neck pain, especially if you feel a continuous tingling on the arms or if it is difficult to touch the chest with the chin, it is good to contact a doctor who, through the appropriate diagnostic tests, can help us clarify the location and the nature of the pain.

Once the presence of dysmorphism or specific pathologies of the cervical tract has been excluded, to relieve and prevent pain in the area in question it is useful to try to change one’s lifestyle, paying attention to the posture we assume during our work and introducing some simple exercises which are designed to relieve stiffness and relieve tension in the neck and cervical area. It only takes a few minutes and, as always, the consistency of daily execution is essential for achieving satisfactory results.

For example, we can sit in front of a mirror, ischial tuberosities well placed on the chair, back and head straight, feet on the ground and hands on the thighs; carry out the following movements, slowly and always being careful that the movements themselves do not cause pain sensations.

1.Flex the head ten times alternately to the right and left, bringing the ear closer to the shoulder. It is possible to accompany the movement with the ipsilateral hand (on the same side where we flex the head) to help achieve a slight tension on the opposite side of the neck.
2.Cross your hands behind, above the nape of your neck, and flex your head forward by bringing your chin to your chest. Hold the position for about ten seconds. Take care to keep the torso straight and flex only the upper part of the spine. Repeat the exercise eight times.
3.Extend the head and bring the nape back, raising the chin and holding the position for about ten seconds. Then return to the starting position and after a few seconds repeat the exercise.
4.Rotate the head alternately to the right and left, trying to align the chin with the shoulder. The head is always erect and the gaze is directed forward, in the direction indicated by the chin. Slow and fluid movements and continue for about forty seconds alternating left and right.
5.Push the chin forward while keeping the head erect. Maintain the position for about ten seconds and then go back. Repeat the exercise eight times.

Almost no one in Italy knows the Feldenkrais method (*), but being extremely valid, we report a very short video of a teacher of this method at the bottom. The video provides clear indications on how to approach the exercises described above.

If you are prone to neck pain, there are some things to avoid, such as staying in a position for too long, sleeping on your stomach with your head tilted to one side, making quick and abrupt movements, taking on painful positions or carrying heavy loads.

On the other hand, in moments when you feel greater discomfort, you can try to lower the level of tension and stress also by resorting to a good relaxing herbal tea. If, on the other hand, there is a sensation of pain in the cervical tract, it can certainly be helpful to wear a soft cervical collar. If the pain is due to trauma we can resort to cryotherapy by applying an ice pack wrapped on a cotton cloth.

Finally, even with respect to neck pain, the influence of a possible overweight situation has a negative effect: having an eye on the quantity and quality of the food we eat is always an intelligent behavior that should not be forgotten.

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(*) How to relax shoulders and neck with the Feldenkrais method: