A pain in the neck makes everyday tasks like exercising and doing the Dougie a torturous chore. And because even the slightest neck twist, tug, tweak, or twerk can translate into severe agony, it pays to learn common causes of neck pain and how to avoid them.
For tips on how you can do just that, we turned to Dr. Andrew Yaun, a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician in Connecticut.
#1. You’re Sitting Too Much
We hope you’re not sitting down for this: Most of us sit too much. Sedentary behavior accounts for 60% of our waking lives, according to one 2010 study. Along with new research linking too much sitting with a greater risk of disability after age 60, it’s also screwing with our spines, shoulders, necks, and upper and lower backs.
“Sitting is becoming the new smoking,” Dr. Yaun says. “Human beings are not meant to stay in one position for eight hours per day. I’ve written some many notes for clients for them to get a standing desk because it’ll benefit their overall health.” Being hunched over a computer for hours at a clip typing emails, crunching numbers, and chuckling at LOLcats might be part of your job, but you’re not chained to your desk. So the responsibility to get up and move falls to you. “If you get to a point where you’re feeling stiff, you’ve waited too long,” he adds. “There is no substitute for moving around.”
When you’re working on a timely project with a hard deadline, of course you’re going to hunker down and finish regardless of how much time it takes. But a quick walk or stretch in between email replies, or standing while you field phone calls are small things you can do to keep your neck—and the rest of your body—healthy down the line.
#2. Your Running Form Is Terrible
If you’re attempting to escape from an axe-yielding psychopath, don’t bother worrying about your running form. However, do pay attention to your form during your regular jog or run, as poor running form can cause pain in your shoulders, lower back, and neck.
“You should be looking straight ahead with your chin tucked,” he advises. “Your shoulders should also be set in a down and back position with…elbows bent at 90 degrees and pivoting back and forth. There should be some midline tension…[as well as a] bracing of the spine.”
#3. Your Lifting Form Could Use Some Help
Whether you’re pumping iron, pumping air into a flat tire, or fist pumping at a Bon Iver show (don’t do that), being aware of your movement patterns and the ways in which you position your body can help stave off injury.
“Many people doing push-ups hang their heads to inch their noses closer to ground without lowering their body because it makes them feel as if they’re getting closer to ground,” he explains. “This cranes the neck forward and could potentially cause pinching in neck because the neck isn’t being held in a neutral position. With squats, I’m either looking straight ahead or straight ahead or slightly upward.”
Slightly. Look up too much and you might put too much pressure on your spine.
#4. You’re Using the Wrong Mattress or Pillow
How can you tell if your mattress or pillow belong in the garbage? If you’re waking up with a stiff neck or back pain, that’s a good indicator one or both of them need to go.
Try a two-minute test: “You should be able to sleep on your back comfortably with your hands down by your sides and not feel the need to shift your body or hips,” Yaun says. “If you can’t do that with your bed or pillow, something isn’t right.”
Unrelated but still important: It’s suggested that pillows be washed at least once a year, and replaced every one to three years based on their condition. That pillow you’ve hung onto for years because it’s super-comfy? Sorry, but it’s gotta go. According to recent research, up to a third of a pillow’s weight could be made of bugs, dead skin, and dust mites. Mattresses can be replaced every seven years.
Obviously, if either of them causes you to wake up in pain, move the timetable up.