Neck Archive

Articles

Is your pillow hurting your health?

Pillows can help or hurt, depending on their firmness and your sleep position.


 Image: © vitranc/Getty Images

You probably know someone who won't leave home without a special pillow, claiming that a particular bag of fluff or feathers is the key to a good night's sleep. And that person may be on to something. "Anything that will make you more comfortable will improve the likelihood of getting a good night's sleep," says Dr. Lawrence Epstein, a sleep expert at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

But the benefits of pillows don't go much further than comfort and positioning. Sometimes pillows even hurt your health.

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.

Is your workout giving you a stiff neck?

Try these quick fixes to stay active and avoid neck pain.

Physical activity is important to feeling great and staying healthy. But the wrong execution of a particular move, such as a golf swing or swimming stroke, may wind up causing neck pain. "Often people don't realize their activity is to blame," says Emily Roy, a physical therapist with the Sports Medicine Center at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Neck pain after working out: What goes wrong

Neck pain may result from overuse of muscles in the neck and shoulder (many shoulder muscles also attach to the neck), strain on the joints in the neck, or a pinched nerve in the neck or shoulder area.

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.

6 ways to ease neck pain

Stress, poor sleep, and physical ailments over time can lead to a pain in the neck

Image: Wavebreakmedia | Getty Images

Everyday life isn't kind to the neck. You may be all too familiar with that crick you get when you cradle the phone between your shoulder and ear, or the strain you feel after working at your computer.

Neck pain rarely starts overnight. It usually evolves over time. And it may be spurred by arthritis or degenerative disc disease, and accentuated by poor posture, declining muscle strength, stress, and even a lack of sleep, said Dr. Zacharia Isaac, medical director of the Comprehensive Spine Care Center at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital and director of interventional physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.

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.

The 7 faces of neck pain

If you're bothered by neck pain, you have plenty of company. Doctors estimate that seven out of 10 people will be troubled by such pain at some point in their lives. But if you were to ask each of these people to describe their neck pain, you would probably get seven different stories.

By clearly describing your specific neck symptom, or combination of symptoms, you can help your doctor determine what's wrong and how to help.

The surprising side effects from using technology

Repetitive motion and poor posture can lead to aches and pains.


 Image: © Johnny Greig/Getty Images

You've mastered the art of texting, emailing, and web surfing on your smartphone and computer. But along with that digital prowess, you've picked up an unexpected side effect.

"We get a number of patients who develop injuries from these activities," says Dr. Tamara Rozental, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hand, wrist, and elbow disorders at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

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