Chronic neck pain can result from various reasons; injury, accidents, aging, osteoarthritis, poor posture, stress, and a host of issues can contribute to chronic neck pain. And not to mention the technological advances that have turned us into sedentary beings that sit on our comfortable couches and in front of computers for long periods of time. As a result, approximately 14–71% of adults experience neck pain at some point in their lifetime. According to a JAMA study, Americans spent $134 billion from 1996 to 2016 on neck and lower back pain treatments. Physical Therapy may be effective or NOT; medications will have side effects and surgery?!? Well, there's no turning back after surgery. Sometimes it's necessary, but surgery should ALWAYS be the last option after you've tried everything else. You may not get the relief you were looking for, but there's no reversing it once it's done.
So what do you do, where do you start? Here are 5 tips for dealing with chronic neck pain.
#1 Do your research, know what you're dealing with
Have you been to the Doctor? Do you have a diagnosis? Do you have tingling in your fingers? Which ones? Is it a trigger point, thoracic outlet, or a disc issue? Knowing is half the battle. Go through all the medical hoops and get as much info about your issue as you can. Don't just look for medication or surgery to fix it. Pain is a signal from your body that something is going on; Listen to it. Drugs only mask the issue and sometimes doesn't even effectively address it. And surgery may seem like an easy fix, but so many of our clients have expressed that they wished they had tried alternative methods such as massage or Rolfing BEFORE surgery.
#2 Figure out your Triggers
I have learned by trial and error when I do certain things that will trigger my neck pain. When I'm lifting heavy things or doing a lot of pulling, I can almost guarantee that I will have either a headache or neck pain if I don't follow up with my self-care or schedule an appointment with my chiropractor, osteopath, or Rolfer. I always get a stiff neck when traveling. Sleeping on a different bed or pillow can irritate it, so I usually travel with my own pillow, if possible, or a travel-sized pillow. And I make sure to travel with a pair of Tune-up Therapy balls, some arnica gel and pellets, and a couple of prescription muscle relaxers(only if I’m desperate) if my trip is more than a couple of days. Crisscross sports bras and swimsuits that cross over my upper trapezius area are a big no-no for me. Read our blog on how sports bras can irritate trigger points and contribute to headaches.
Other things I have to watch: Making sure I sit in a supported manner with feet on the floor, hips under my shoulders, no slumping, and a headrest on my chair if I'm sitting for a long period of time. And using the headrest in the car! All of these things, not to mention being vigilant about the forward-head position when using technology and making sure my head is sitting on top of my shoulders, are things I'm constantly paying attention to.
#3 Learn Self-Care
We teach our clients how to care for their chronic pain issues themselves using cupping, yoga tune-up therapy balls, stretching, Epsom salts baths, and/or hot/cold applications. It's not always possible to get in and get an appointment with your massage therapist or Chiropractor when your neck starts bothering you. Or maybe you can't afford to go as often as you need. During COVID, many of our clients maintained and coped with their pain when Bull City Soles was forced to shut down. And frequency is key to progress in healing. Maintaining your bodywork session results until the next appointment is when you really see progress being made. There's only so much your massage therapist or bodyworker can address within a session. You have to commit to homework to continue the healing that you are searching for.
Learning self-care is powerful. Taking ownership and realizing that you can do something to address your chronic pain, instead of feeling helpless, can be life-changing.
#4 Examine your Diet and Water Intake
Sugar is a major inflammatory. Too processed sugary sweets in your diet can contribute to chronic pain. Gluten intolerance and processed foods also may contribute to inflammation - consuming natural anti-inflammatory foods such as fresh pineapple is beneficial for inflammation. Pineapple contains bromelain, known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Eating a healthy colorful diet of fresh fruits, veggies, and fish can help relieve neck pain and soft tissue chronic pain in general.
Do you drink water? You should. Sodas, tea, & coffee dehydrate soft tissues. The inside of the body is mostly made of water, and the brain and organs require it to function optimally. Chronic dehydration can have far-reaching effects. Ever experienced a dehydration headache? Did you know the intervertebral discs between the vertebra in your spine are filled with a hydrated gel-like substance that protects and cushions the spine and nerves? The flexibility of these discs can depend on your age, lifestyle, and hydration. To stay properly hydrated, take your weight and divide it by half; this is approximately how many ounces of water you need to drink each day. Exercise, climate, medications, and other factors may affect hydration and how much you need to drink.
#5 Get regular bodywork such as massage or Rolfing®️SI
Research has shown regular massage is helpful for short term chronic neck pain. Our massage therapists here at Bull City Soles work with our clients to help them figure out ways to maintain their bodywork results. Regular bodywork is excellent for increasing self-awareness. Often, clients aren't aware of tightness or soreness in an area until they get on the table and are receiving bodywork. Or they come in with a problem and later find out the source of their issue isn't where they thought! #WhereItIsItAint, Our clients that come in for regular bodywork experience less chronic pain. How often should you come in for bodywork? That depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are looking for relaxation or reducing stress, then probably once a month is ok. To treat chronic pain, it's going to require more frequency until it's manageable.
These are just a few suggestions to help manage your chronic neck pain. If you are looking for a massage therapist or bodyworker in the Durham, NC, or surrounding Raleigh, Cary, or Chapel Hill area, we would love the opportunity to work with you at Bull City Soles! We are trained in various bodywork modalities; Barefoot massage is our specialty but meeting individual needs is our priority. Our 125 five-star Google reviews attest to our passion, expertise, and commitment to excellent massage and bodywork. SCHEDULE NOW with one of our skilled massage therapists!