Friday, 4 November 2011

Neck Pain and Stiffness

I recently did some corporate wellness testing and one of the most common complaints was that of neck and mid back pain and stiffness. The main complaint was a dull ache in the neck and mid back region with a sharp pain at the base of the skull, often resulting in headaches. One of my earlier blogs spoke of correct ergonomics when sitting at your desk, as poor seated posture is very closely related to back and neck pain. Besides correct seated posture, remember to get up from your desk and walk around the room at least every hour.

Other factors also contribute to this very debilitating neck and mid back pain. An x-ray should be done to rule out the possibility of any disc disorder. Then one must look at muscle spasm and tightness. Weakness of the deep neck stabilizing muscles, mid back muscles, shoulder and arm muscles, and tightness of the chest and superficial neck muscles may contribute to neck and mid back pain. In other words, a muscle imbalance exists, which causes certain muscles to go into spasm, resulting in pain and stiffness in the neck and mid back region.

Numerous deep muscles stabilize the neck, as can be seen in the image below. If these muscles are weak, the superficial muscles, predominantly the trapezius muscles, compensate, often causing them to be tight and possibly to go into spasm because they are permanently working.

The muscles in the mid back region help to stabilize the scapulae (shoulder blades). If these muscles are weak, it creates a pulling sensation on the neck muscles, as the scapulae pull downwards with gravity and the muscles are not strong enough to hold them in place. This constant pulling puts enormous strain on the neck, resulting in pain.

If the shoulder and arm muscles are weak, the neck muscles, predominantly the trapezius muscle (shown above) tends to take over, especially when lifting heavy objects, such as shopping bags in and out of the boot of your car. Again, this overworked portion of the trapezius muscle results in pain and stiffness of the neck and mid back region.

Tightness in a muscle results in limited range of motion (ROM) of the joint it surrounds. When the trapezius muscle is overworked, it becomes very tight and may even go into spasm, resulting in pain. The chest muscles are often tight because of sitting in front of a computer all day with a poor seated posture – shoulders forward and rounded back. Add a phone tucked in between your ear and shoulder and you’re headed for disaster! These tight muscles must be stretched regularly before any strengthening can begin, because full (ROM) needs to be achieved and then the muscles strengthened throughout that range. Stretching also generally provides immediate relief of symptoms. If the neck is in spasm, see a Physiotherapist to break down the spasm before starting a specialized stretching and strengthening programme with a Biokineticist.


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  5. Thank you for the post. There is a program called The Healthy Back, may be helpful for the serious back pain.

  6. If your stiff neck or aching muscles come from a poor sleeping position, you can stop the symptoms by having a supportive mattress, along with pillows that support your head, neck and spine alignment throughout the night. if you feel that your stiff neck could be a sign of something more severe, such as osteoarthritis or tension headaches, find a doctor or health professional who can prescribe physical therapy for neck pain .