Don't Let Your Desk Job Become A "Pain In The Neck"!

Written By: Annapurna Sharma

Neck pain is a common complaint seen in nearly 10% of adults. The neck carrying an assortment of nerves has the primary task of keeping the head balanced at all times. Weighing around 5 – 10 lbs the head is indeed heavier for a slender neck. Freelancers, writers and all professionals involved in continuous sitting are easy targets of pain. Pouring over loads of research material, leafing through invaluable works of esteemed authors, writing, rewriting and editing are deemed demands of an author.

Working at a desk with an upright head stiffens the neck. It might begin as an uneasy, dull or mild pain that is usually ignored. Within weeks the nagging pain shifts to a sharp and severe pain. A number of factors contribute collectively to ignite neck discomfort. Some of them are –

·         Tension of the neck muscle: Long hours of sedentary work that involves continuous sitting in one position strains the neck muscles. An incorrect posture especially slouching while sitting increases the tension further. A comfortable chair with a thin cushion that supports the lower back is the ideal choice. Those working with desktops need to adjust the monitor and keyboard in a manner suitable to them so as not to create neck tension. Multitasking, a viable trend especially with a phone cocooned in the warmth of the neck while deciphering computer lingo exerts additional pressure on the muscles. Incorrect sleeping positions are definite negative add-ons. Sleeping on the stomach disrupts the natural curvature of the spine that initially results in neck muscle strain and may later develop into a permanent disorder.

·         Wear and tear: Age related wear and tear is quite common. Worn out joints, muscle strains and nerve compressions due to poor posture or excess use of one or more muscles results in degenerated discs that become less shock absorbent.

·         Medical conditions: Disorders of the bone or spine like rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis damage the neck joints further.   

CARE OF THE NECK

Annoying neck pain that interferes with daily activities can be easily brought under control. General belief is to rest the neck when it hurts badly – a misconception though. Staying active infact speeds up the healing process. Simple modifications in our day-to-day work do make a vast difference, like –
·         Taking small breaks in between our busy schedule to ease the tension on the neck.
·         Seated in a correct posture and in a comfortable chair.
·         Adjustment of the monitor, keyboard and other work related paraphernalia according to individual suitability.
·         Stop warming up the phone in the folds of the neck.
·         Reduce multitasking.
·         Sleeping on the back or sideways is the best sleeping position.

NECK STRETCHES
            Neck stretches go a long way in easing the pain. Stiffness and tension can be released by proper blood flow to the area. While exercising the back must be kept straight. The neck, head and shoulders must be aligned in line with the shoulders relaxed.  These stretches take only a few minutes, can be done several times/day and can be done at the work area seated in a chair with little disruption. The following 5 easy to do neck stretches alleviate neck pain considerably –
1.      Neck rotation: Slowly lower your head to the right side, and then rotate it clockwise around the right shoulder, back, left shoulder and front in the form of a circle. Repeat it in an anticlockwise direction. Do a few repetitions gently.
2.      Neck tilting: Hold your neck straight till the count of 10 and then tilt it to the right side. Hold it for 10 – 15secs and then slowly revert to neck straight position. Hold it again till the count of 10 and then tilt it to the left side and hold it for 10 – 15secs. Around ten reps of neck tilting have proved beneficial.
3.      Neck forward and backward bends: Lower the head forward till the chin almost touches the upper part of the chest. Hold the position for 10 – 15secs and then keep the neck straight for another 5 – 10secs. Then lower the head backwards till you face the ceiling and hold it for 10 – 15secs. Bring the head back to normal position. Repeat another 10 – 15 times.
4.      Neck sideward: Turn your head to the right side as you look over your right shoulder. Hold it there for 10 – 15secs and then turn to normal position as you look front. Next turn the head to the left side and hold it for another 10 – 15secs and bring back to normal. 10 – 20 such repetitions must be done.
5.      Neck – Head resistance: Put both your hand behind your head and interlace the fingers. Rest the head on the interlaced fingers as you gently push the head backwards. Simultaneously resist the head with the fingers. Hold the position 5 – 10secs and then release. Few such resistance reps are helpful.
Neck pain in a majority of the cases is not a serious problem and improves with self-care. However a thorough diagnosis to rule out a potential problem needs to be done. Diagnostic procedures reveal a degenerated joint or disc. It is rather difficult to find the exact cause of neck pain. Staying active and self-help measures are necessary to alleviate pain.

Regular practice of relaxation techniques like pranayama and meditation eases strain. Use of neck braces/ hot water bag/ a warm shower/ a gentle massage relieves neck tension. An ice pack can also be applied which reduces inflammation.     

  WHEN CAN NECK PAIN BECOME SERIOUS?
            Serious neck pain is quite an uncommon phenomenon. Nevertheless to be on guard, seek immediate medical care in the following conditions –
·         When there is severe pain due to neck or head injury or due to a fall.
·         The pain radiates to the shoulders, arms and legs. Walking becomes practically difficult. Such a condition could be due to a herniated disc or a nerve compression.
·         Pain with presence of fever and weight loss, a sure sign of an infection.
·         Throbbing pain, an indication of a heart problem.
·         Pain accompanied with headache, indicates a stroke.

A severe neck pain need not necessarily be due to an underlying serious condition. As I write these few words my neck aches. It always does when I do serious thoughtful work. I agree taking a break from a serious session of reading slouching in the comforts of a cushioned sofa is quite impossible. Sometimes the neck freezes due to cold weather. A little warmth and proper blood circulation through any of the above stretches or techniques makes it normal.                   

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