What Causes Neck Pain?

The majority of neck pain is not caused by trauma or whiplash.  Most causes of neck pain can be attributed to poor posture.  The most common type of poor posture is the forward head and shoulder posture.  This occurs when the head (weighing about 10 pounds) shifts or slants forward relative to the trunk or spine.  This forward head position creates increased stress and strain on the joints of the neck, especially the joints in the lower cervical vertebrae. This force (called shear force) is borne by the discs and the smaller facet joints in the neck.  Even a small amount of forward head posture, one or two inches, can create relatively high forces on the joints of the lower neck.  Over time, the joints of the neck become irritated and painful causing pain in the neck and upper back.
In addition to joint stress and strain, the muscles of the neck also must counterbalance the forward head posture.  The neck extensors (the muscles in the back of the neck) are overworked and become weak and irritated from chronic tightness and muscle spasm.  The neck flexors (the muscles in the front of the neck) can atrophy because they are used relatively little.  The net result is neck pain that radiates between the shoulder blades and the upper back from trigger points which are points of localized tenderness in the muscles that are very painful to touch.
It is important to remember to practice good neck and shoulder posture when using the computer, while driving, reading and using the telephone/cellphone.  A good rule of thumb is to try to maintain some distance between your chin and chest (about the size of a tennis ball).  This will help prevent excessive forward flexion of the neck. 
Remember to take frequent breaks from your work station or when reading.  It is this prolonged period of poor posture on the neck joints and muscles that leads to fatigue and muscle spasm.  The standard recommendation is to take a short, "micro-break" every 20 min.  Micro-breaks should include gentle neck extension, shoulder shrugs and backward bending.
With over 30 years of experience as a chiropractor, I can tell you that using a little bit of common sense and some simple stretch and relaxation techniques can help relieve the stress and pain associated with poor neck posture.  Feel free to call our office in Greenville, NC if you would like more information on how to prevent and treat neck and shoulder pain.

Dr. McGee is the chiropractor for ECU Pirate Athletics.

The office is located at 1330 East Arlington Blvd., Greenville, NC

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