Neck Pain and Osteopathy
Written by: Dr Steven Resic (Osteopath)
Do you suffer from ongoing neck pain?
Lately we have seen an increase in neck pain patients coming into our clinic. Injuries that might be causing neck pain could be a bulging disc, pinched nerves in the neck, muscle and ligament strains, arthritis, joint sprains, and whiplash. Acute or chronic neck pain may often be associated with a sedentary job or lifestyle.
In today’s society, many people spend numerous hours sitting per day. An average day could involve driving or taking the train 2 hours a day, sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, and then coming home and sitting at the dinner table and couch for another 2 hours. Add that all up and some people could be sitting up to 12 hours a day. Therefore some people can literally spend half a day sitting!
A scary thought according to Chau et al (2013, p. 9-10) was that “every hour of daily sitting was associated with a 2% increase in all-cause mortality risk. Notably this association increased to 5% for those sitting more than 7 hours a day!”
Long periods of sitting may contribute to poor posture. This in turn can contribute to postural strains of ligaments, muscles, and joints of the neck, back and shoulders – resulting in acute or chronic neck pain. A postural strain is when a tissue of the body needs to hold a posture against gravity for an extended period of time thus leading it to become strained. It is similar to holding a 10kg weight above your head for 10 minutes and at the 9 minute mark you may feel as though it’s a 50kg weight. A postural strain is gradual and occurs over time.
So why is it important to break up the sedentary time? Healy et al (2008, p.5) observed that “participants who had mostly uninterrupted sedentary time (i.e. sat for prolonged periods of time) had a poorer cardiometabolic health profile (waist circumference, triglycerides, and blood glucose levels) compared to those who had more frequent breaks in their sedentary time.” So not only can breaking up sitting time reduce postural strain on your neck but it can also have better health outcomes for your cardiometabolic health profile.
So how do you reduce your sitting time or improve your sitting posture? One solution we recommend is using a sit to stand desk. It will allow you to alternate between sitting and standing posture during the day potentially leading to decreased postural strain on your neck. You could aim to alternate between sitting and standing every hour and incorporate stretches in between especially for your neck, shoulders, and back.
Another important aspect is to sit with correct posture. An ergonomic assessment may be necessary to ascertain whether your chair, desk, and computer are set up optimally for you to maintain optimal posture. Correct ergonomics may not only decrease your chances of experiencing neck pain but also your chances of acquiring other injuries such as repetitive strain syndromes including carpal tunnel and tendonitis in the elbow and wrist. In addition, good work ergonomics means you will be more comfortable whilst working, less fatigued, and therefore more productive!
Exercise and movement is great way to reverse some of the effects of a sedentary job. Some benefits of exercise may include weight loss, increased strength of muscles, joints and bone, increased circulation, boosting your mood, and help with sleep. Exercising can be as simple as going for a 1km walk. A 1km walk may not seem like much but it is a great way to stimulate inactive muscles and joints that have been sedentary at a desk.
One benefit of exercising that really stands out is strengthening ligaments, muscles, joints, and bones. Since neck pain may be caused from chronic postural strains it makes sense to strengthen the connective tissues that help maintain good posture whilst sitting or working. At St Kilda Osteopathy, our Melbourne Osteopaths will also help guide and support you to perform the correct exercises to help strengthen the joints and muscles causing your pain.
A review of the literature suggests that manual therapy and exercise can help with neck pain. According to Miller et al (2010, p.351) it is suggested that the “combination of manual therapy and exercise produces greater improvements in pain, function, quality of life, and patient satisfaction when compared to manipulation or mobilisation (manual therapy) alone for chronic neck pain.” So, if you aren’t getting the results you desire for your chronic neck pain from manual therapy alone, you should also consider strength and rehabilitation exercises to aid in your recovery.
Osteopaths may help decrease your chronic pain by first assessing your neck and surrounding structures, such as your shoulders, thoracic, and lumbar spine, and diagnose the issue causing you pain and discomfort. Once we have identified target areas to focus treatment on, we then use a range of “hands on” techniques including soft tissue massage, joint articulation, joint manipulation, stretching, and dry needling.
Treatment will usually include some take home exercises – these may be foam rolling exercises and neck and chest stretches, or even just breathing correctly. We also advise on supplements, creams, strapping, heat, ice, and activities to avoid which may reduce your pain and speed up your recovery process.
In summary, the following steps may help decrease your chronic neck pain. Seeking out a manual therapy practitioner, such as an Osteopath in Melbourne, decreasing the amount of time you spend sitting during the day, increasing the amount of time you spend exercising per week, and having an ergonomic assessment performed at your work place or at home.
Any other questions not answered here? Get in touch!
Chau JY., Grunseit AC., Chey T, et al. Daily sitting time and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2013;8:e80000.
Healy GN., Dunstan DW., Salmon J, et al. Breaks in sedentary time: beneficial associations with metabolic risk. Diabetes Care. 2008;31: 661–6.
Miller, J. Gross, A. D’Sylva, J. et al. (2010). Manual therapy and exercise for neck pain: A systemic review. Manual Therapy 15, (2010) 334-354.