A 5-point self-directed management plan that may save your neck from surgery.
As a physician, I spend a lot of time discussing symptoms with my patients. For instance, persistent, chronic pain in the neck accompanied by numbness or tingling in the arms and hands may indicate a ruptured cervical disc. If you have these symptoms, I encourage you to see a doctor for a complete diagnosis.
Many of my athletic patients experience occasional soreness that can be a sign of a developing indirect injury from long-term repetitive movement. Some patients, like myself, simply have a genetic predisposition for degenerative disc disease. However, not all neck pain is indicative of a spinal disorder that requires surgical therapy.
What if you just have an occasional sore neck, especially after a long day at work on your computer? Does your neck ache last a few days, then goes away by itself? You probably don’t have anything to worry about. The fact is, most neck pain is not the result of a direct injury like a fall or a car accident. More than likely, short-term, occasional discomfort is the result of repetitive movement or holding a position for too long.
If you get to a point where you need to see a doctor, hopefully, you’ll be given more than one treatment option. Being a patient of many of the treatment therapies I recommend for my patients, surgery of any kind is actually the last thing on my mind. In nearly 30 years at my practice in Beverly Hills, CA, I have found that the best treatment results can be achieved from a non-surgical approach.
Here’s my 5-point, self-directed management plan that could help you avoid a trip to the doctor.
- Regular exercise. You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from regular exercise. During a long day on a computer or other work, take frequent breaks to relieve the pressure on your neck. Try some extension stretching of your neck or head rotations. When you get home, use light free weights to do shoulder shrugs to help strengthen upper shoulder muscle groups. There are other exercises (LINK: https://www.spine.md/insights/articles/dont-just-sit-move/) you can try, but the most important recommendation is to move and keep moving.
- Keep your nose off your mobile phone. The typical 30-deg forward tilt to look down at your phone puts about 40 pounds of stress on your cervical discs. After about an hour of daily use, you WILL develop aches. The more time you spend looking down at your phone, the quicker these occasional aches will develop into chronic pain. Quick solution: hold your phone up to eye level. Avoid using your phone on a table or (worse yet) your lap.
- Watch your laptop time. If your work requires consistent daily time on a computer, it’s probably impossible for you to impose an arbitrary limit. However, if you do a lot of computing with a laptop, pay attention to ergonomics. Carry a portable keyboard that you can keep low where your wrists are level with your elbows. Position the screen at or slightly below eye level. Then sit on a good chair that helps you maintain good posture.
- Don’t slouch! There’s some profound wisdom in old sayings. My granny used to say, “A good posture is the sign of a healthy attitude.” Be conscious of your posture at all times. You can avoid most causes of neck aches by preventing curling your upper back and shoulders forward. If you’re not used to holding a good posture, it may take some work at first. But you’ll be surprised at how effective a good posture can be in alleviating the occasional aches and pains in your whole back.
- Stick with common sense nutrition. No surprise that nutrition plays a massive role in the health of your whole body. But did you know that sugary foods can actually trigger inflammation and make your aches and pains feel worse? A balanced diet with less sugar and more high-protein foods will help strengthen your body and supply it with the resources it needs to heal. The most important dietary recommendation that works for almost everyone is to drink plenty of water. You should be drinking between one-half ounce to one full ounce of water per each pound of body weight, per day. If you weigh 150 pounds, you should be drinking between 10 to 19 cups of water.
A note about pain management and self-medication. Generally, it’s okay to use over-the-counter medication to manage occasional aches and pains. I recommend anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen for many of my patients. But if usage is continual (more than one or two weeks) or if the pain intensifies and requires that you increase dosage or frequency, stop and call your doctor.
The best approach for managing your occasional neck aches and pains is knowing when to seek help. The sooner you see your doctor and get a diagnosis, the more treatment options you will have.
Stick with these guidelines so that if surgery is needed, your body will be in the best condition possible and ready for a healthy recovery. Then all you and your doctor will have to do is focus on how to preserve motion and how to help you maintain an active functional lifestyle.