Your neck has to do a lot of heavy lifting; the human head weighs about 10-12 pounds. Still, your spine’s strong vertebrae and muscles and the gentle curve of the bones are designed to hold that amount securely as long as you stay upright.
It’s quite another thing, though, when you improperly lift objects so your neck’s soft tissues have to bear the strain or drop your head forward to stare at your phone for hours. Both of these can lead to neck pain that may become entrenched if you don’t change your ways.
At Interventional Pain Center in Legacy Office Park, Norman, Oklahoma, interventional pain medicine physician Dr. James Stephens and our staff see many patients with neck pain, most of whom developed it due to lifting heavy objects improperly or holding their head in an awkward forward position. Why neck pain? Here’s what you need to know.
It doesn’t matter if you work full-time as a construction worker or are just helping a friend move across town; in both cases, you’re doing physical labor that involves lifting and carrying heavy items or holding your neck in an awkward position. Both can cause neck strain and stiffness.
Your neck is strong, but when you try to lift or carry an object that’s too heavy, you strain the muscles that hold the head up. You’re also more likely to compensate for the imbalance by using poor posture or bending the neck at an awkward angle. Do this too much, and your neck will start hurting from the strain.
If your work includes repetitive motions that involve moving your head, such as looking down while bricklaying or looking up and over when you’re copying text on a device, you overuse the neck muscles, which become inflamed and stiff.
When you work your muscles in an unfamiliar way, such as moving the sofa, you’re more likely to strain the ones in your neck because you’re bending the neck at an unusual angle, which leads to pain and stiffness.
A neck sprain or strain occurs when the fibers in a neck tendon or muscle, respectively, stretch beyond their capacity and tear. The tear often occurs in the connective tissue between a muscle and tendon, the weakest part of the system. Also called a pulled muscle, this injury generally heals on its own within a few days or weeks with rest and targeted exercises. If it doesn’t, make an appointment to visit Interventional Pain Center for an evaluation.
More severe neck strains produce more inflammation, leading to more swelling, pain, and a longer recovery. The muscle’s strength and ability to recover depends on how many muscle fibers you’ve torn.
This condition, borne from the digital age, is sometimes called text or tech neck. The neck pain results from improper ergonomics while at your workstation or improper posture when looking at your phone or other device. It’s akin to doing heavy lifting improperly.
Good neck posture occurs when the ears sit directly above the shoulders with the chest open and shoulders back. This is considered a “neutral” position because it minimizes stress on the neck, as the head’s weight is appropriately balanced on the cervical spine.
If you place your head in front of the shoulders looking down, as with tech neck, it can lead to a couple of problems:
The more your posture deviates from “neutral,” the greater the potential for neck pain. A rule of thumb states that for every inch the head is held forward, it’s like adding 10 pounds of head weight on the cervical spine. So, if your head weighs 10-12 pounds, holding your posture just 1-2 inches forward from “neutral” effectively doubles or triples the weight you’re placing on your vulnerable neck.
Holding your head forward to balance a heavy load consistently overworks some of the neck and upper back muscles as they try to counterbalance the pull of gravity on the forward head. As with a repetitive movement, muscles become more susceptible to painful strains, spasms, and tears.
If your neck is hurting, whether you know the source or not, come into the Interventional Pain Center for an evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Stephens, call the office at 405-759-8407 or use our online booking tool today.