A “stiff neck” is one of those conditions which we’ve all experienced at some point, but may well have struggled to properly explain. “stiff” means something different to everyone, and the degree to which it interferes with your everyday life can also vary a lot – this week, we’re learning how to “unstiffen” that neck!
All about the neck
If we stop to think about it for a second, the neck is a pretty incredible effort of bio-engineering – believe it or not, the average weight of the human head is a full 11 pounds and we expect our necks to support that weight all while providing an huge range of motion right throughout the day. On first impression that may not seem like a lot, but imagine you had to actually hold that weight in your hands and up above your shoulders all day every day for the rest of your life… so yes, the neck is pretty incredible!
A stiff neck can often be traced to postural issues that contribute to weakened neck muscles.
The majority of us are working on computers and staring down at smartphones for hours on end each day, and that’s left an estimated 20% of us living with daily neck pain over this past year alone. Over time, extra stress on the neck, caused by poor posture, can change how you move and increase the pressure on your spinal discs, which can eventually lead to neck stiffness and pain.
Now, if you want to understand this on a more physical level – imagine (or actually try) holding an 11 pound weight directly above your head – this is hard, but as long as your arms are in line with the body it’s manageable. Now simply extend your arms forward so that they are roughly 30 centimetres (about one desktop ruler’s length) in front of your body, but still above head height. Feel how tough that is? That’s what’s happening to your neck! Feel how stiff your arms are now? That’s how your neck feels too!
Pain vs stiffness.
There isn’t a true line between pain and stiffness, some people find neck stiffness painful or find that it causes them to move in a way that causes pain elsewhere in the body – as a generalisation though, we can say that stiffness is uncomfortable but does not cause pain whereas pain is recognisable as acute or chronic pain.
One typically follows the other – that habit of looking down at our computers or phones all day often means we’re living with chronically tired neck muscles, that stress adds up and can also result in the joints of your neck not moving correctly – or feeling “stiff” – at that point, it’s only a matter of time before you wake up with a stiff neck or turn your head during the day and are greeted by an intense muscle discomfort or pain.
The good news is that stiffness which has not yet resulted in pain is easy to treat, and might not even require a trip to the chiropractor.
Here are 4 smart steps you can take:
- Perform range of motion focused exercises each day that both stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the joints in your neck.
- Invest in a supportive pillow that you find comfortable for how you sleep and will keep your head in a neutral position throughout the night.
- Schedule regular spinal adjustments, massage or targeted exercise to help maintain proper movement patterns with regard to your neck and spinal joints.
- Make meaningful changes to your posture throughout the day to support the beck and keep the spine in optimal alignment. Setting a “posture check alarm” on your phone is a great way to utilise that device for some spinal good!!
When stiffness becomes pain
Once stiffness turns to pain, it’s time to seek help – and a chiropractor is an excellent place to start. Even if you’re struggling to shift regular stiffness, a visit to the chiropractor could be an excellent way to get some personal advice and rule out an injury or underlying condition.
At this point, having served Chelmsford for over 20 years, we’ve helped literally thousands of people get rid of neck stiffness and pain, and we can do the same for you!