Neck Archive


Surprising causes of neck pain

Neck pain is often the result of strained neck muscles that become irritated from everyday activities. Examples include watching TV for hours at a time, sleeping without enough neck support, slouching, looking down at a smartphone for long periods, lifting heavy dumbbells, or getting stressed out. Ways to avoid such neck pain include using pillows to better support the neck on a couch or in bed, sitting up straighter, keeping electronic screens at eye level, lifting weights that aren't too heavy, and practicing stress management.

What could cause my persistent neck pain?

Acute (short-term) pain usually comes from tissue injury or inflammation, known as nociceptive pain. Chronic (persistent) pain may have started as nociceptive pain, but over time the source may be from the brain itself. Understanding these different types of pain can help focus the treatment plan.

Not-so-sweet slumber

Morning back and neck pain are often triggered by sleep position or poor choice of mattress or pillow. Certain sleep poses, especially stomach-down, can lead to pain by creating misalignment of the spine and other areas of the body. To prevent back and neck pain, people can switch sleep positions frequently, align all body areas when shifting positions, use firmer pillows, consider buying a new mattress, and place a foam wedge under the pelvis or between the legs while sleeping.

What's that shoulder sound?

There's no one sound unique to a particular shoulder problem. That makes it hard to know what various shoulder noises are telling you. Possibilities include arthritis; bone breaks; rotator cuff tears; gas bubbles, loose parts, or bone spurs in the shoulder joint; neck problems; and bursitis. It's advisable to investigate shoulder noises if they happen, along with shoulder pain, weakness, or limited movement, or if the sound followed a shoulder injury. It's also smart (though not urgent) to ask a doctor about shoulder sounds that aren't accompanied by other symptoms.

How to build a better core

Your core is more than just your abdominals — it also involves your hips, back, and even your shoulders. To strengthen your entire core, take a loaded carry walk.

Your core is the stable part of your body that helps make everyday movements more efficient and safe — like whenever you reach, carry, walk, bend, or twist. A strong core offers other health benefits as you age in addition to proper movement (see "Get more from your core").

Some floor exercises like the plank and superman poses are great for engaging your core muscles. A plank pose is where you hold a push-up position — with straight arms or resting on your forearms — for 10 to 30 seconds.

Will my herniated disc heal on its own?

Ask the doctors

Q. I have a herniated disc in my back. What does this mean, and will this heal on its own?

A. A herniated disc, also called a slipped or ruptured disc, is a common problem that can happen at any age, but becomes more common in middle age and beyond. It occurs when the jelly-like filling in a spinal disc — one of the pads between your vertebrae, or spinal bones — breaks through the disc's outer shell, called the annulus, and bulges through the tear. When this happens, the material may press on nearby nerves, which can cause a host of symptoms including inflammation, pain, and numbness. Where in your body you experience these symptoms depends on the location of the herniated disc. For example, if the disc is in your neck, you may feel pain down your shoulder and into your arm. If the disc is lower in your back, it may irritate your sciatic nerve, which can cause pain that radiates through your buttock and down your leg. The good news is that in most cases — 90% of the time — pain caused by a herniated disc will go away on its own within six months. Initially, your doctor will likely recommend that you take an over-the-counter pain reliever and limit activities that cause pain or discomfort. But in some cases, if you've been using these strategies and haven't noticed an improvement, your doctor may recommend further evaluation and possibly an additional treatment strategy, such as physical therapy. Surgery is typically not recommended unless the problem does not respond to therapy, if you are having an increasingly hard time moving, or if your doctor believes the spinal cord is being compressed.

A plan for easy stretching

Stretching becomes crucial as you age. Here is a quick routine that addresses the major tight spots.

Stretching is much like flossing. You know it's good for your health, but for whatever reason, you may not always make time for it.

"Most people know they need to stretch more, but find it burdensome or are not sure what to do," says Urvashi Chogle, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.

Can changing my sleep habits help with neck pain?

Ask the doctors

Q. I often wake up with a sore neck in the morning. What can I do to prevent this?

A. Poor sleep habits can cause neck pain or make it worse. Simple changes can make it less likely that you will wake up in pain in the morning.

3 tips to prevent neck pain

Without knowing it, you may be encouraging neck pain by the way you perform everyday activities. How you carry yourself can invite neck pain or help keep it at bay. In general, try to keep your head balanced directly over your spine, so it is not leaning forward or cocked to one side. That's because your neck's principal job is to support your head, and your head weighs a lot—about 10 to 12 pounds.

Here are some hints for achieving a healthy neck posture in common activities.

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