Vinay Mathur (43) loves to take long drives around the country side. However, of late, the activity has become more of a pain rather than a pleasure. After every journey, Vinay experiences severe neck pain and is unable to move freely for at least two days until the pain subsides.

According to statistics, Vinay is among the 20 per cent who have experienced neck pain in the last three months.

Keeping your eyes peeled to your laptop or mobile, spending hours rooted to your chair in office, or driving for long periods can take a toll on your body. And one of the first casualties of such a sedentary and gadget-heavy lifestyle is your neck.

Why do you get neck pain?

Your spine has 24 moveable bones, or vertebrae, that extend from the skull to the upper torso. The cervical (neck) section of the spine has a number of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to provide support to the head and ensure smooth movement. The spine supports the weight of the head and provides flexibility to move the head forward, backward, and 180 degrees sideways. Further, the cervical discs between the vertebrae help absorb shock between the bones.

Any injury, inflammation, or abnormality in the muscles, ligaments or bones will trigger neck pain or stiffness.

Common causes of neck pain

Neck pain or stiffness is felt when the muscles in the area tense up, strain or experience injury. How does this happen?

Accidents and Injury: A common cause is injury incurred through a fall, contact sports, or whiplash. Whiplash, also called a hyperextension or hyperflexion injury, occurs when the head moves backward or forward beyond its normal range of motion, triggering muscle fatigue due to the forced and unnatural movement of the muscles and ligaments in the neck. There may be a muscle pull or an irregular hitting of a nerve. The consequent clenching and contraction of the muscles make the neck immobile. When you try to move your head, the joints refuse to cooperate and the action is not smooth. You feel an instant pain, because the body has a protective spasm. Whiplash may happen during exercise or an accident.

Old Age: As you grow older, you may experience degenerative disorders such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease. These disorders affect the joints, nerves and the vertebrae triggering pain, numbness, and spasms.

Faulty Lifestyle: Sitting on the desk for long hours without changing your position, poor posture, sleeping with the neck inclined abnormally, obesity, and even mental stress are some of the reasons for neck pain. Obesity, poor posture, and overuse can weaken the neck muscles and tire the neck joints.Cradling the mobile phone between the ears and neck while talking and craning the neck down while texting are common habits that stress the neck joints. Day in and day out, subscribing to such a lifestyle eventually leads to injury and prolonged neck pain.

How do you relieve neck pain?

Some common conditions associated with neck pain are headaches, tingling and weakness in the arms, muscle pain, fever, throat pain, and tenderness.

In most cases, these conditions can be treated and relieved in a few days. In rare instances, neck pain can indicate serious injury or illness and will require immediate medical treatment.

A number of preventive measures and home remedies can help you tide over the pain in your neck.

  1. Correct Posture: Always ensure the computer monitor is at your eye level. Sit upright and avoid inclining your head to one side. Pick the hands-free option to answer phone calls. When texting or browsing, hold the mobile phone up to avoid craning the head down for long. While driving or checking smart phones, take adequate breaks so you don’t tire your neck muscles by bending forward for a long time. Consider investing in a good neck-supporting chair that will keep your cervical spine in a neutral position. Always use the headrest on your recliner and in your car.Lastly, get up and moving as much as possible to avoid being stuck in an unhealthy position for long periods.
  • Alternating Cold/Heat Therapy: An effective treatment to reduce inflammation in the neck area is to apply heat and cold therapy, alternately. Apply an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel for up to 20 minutes several times a day to reduce swelling. Then alternate the cold treatment with heat after 48 to 72 hours. Try taking a warm shower or using a heating pad on the low setting. Heat therapy is the best way to loosen the muscles and treat stiffness. The application of heat relaxes the muscles, warms up and lubricates the joints before an activity and even eases a muscle spasm. The SandPuppy Strappr, which is designed to be wrapped around the shoulder and neck comfortably, is a non-invasive and non-chemical form of heat therapy that is absolutely safe for use.It is also portable and compact, so you can keep doing your work while relaxing your joints and muscles in the neck. Made with soft, velcro fabric, the strappr can be easily wrapped around the neck. Further, the switch-operated heat control allows you to adjust the heat levels according to your comfort.
  • Stretching Routine and Massage: Once the neck pain subsides, you can begin a gentle stretching routine. You must learn the proper technique from your doctor or physical therapist. First, warm your neck and back with a heating pad, such as the SandPuppy Strappr. Perform some slow stretching exercises that involve rotating and tilting your head up and down, and side to side. The exercise will stretch the neck muscles gently and strengthen them. Avoid jerky movements. Stretching your neck at regular intervals is essential while taking a long drive or working on the computer for more than three hours. Massaging the area regularly for 5-10 minutes will loosen taut muscles and help you relax.
  • Sleeping Position: Sleep on a firm mattress without a pillow if possible. Or else, use a soft neck pillow or a water pillow. It is always better to sleep on your side or your back, because sleeping on your stomach will require you to tilt your head sideways at odd angles. Though using a soft neck collar for some time can relieve discomfort temporarily, avoid prolonged usage as it can make your neck muscles weak.
  • Painkillers:A number of over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or acetaminophen can help provide immediate relief. However, avoid sustained use.
  • Stay hydrated: To avoid degeneration of cervical discs, have plenty of water. The discs between the vertebrae in your spine require water to maintain their height and spinal alignment. Consequently, it won’t put pressure on the spine.

The modern-day grind is hardly conducive to a healthy lifestyle. However, by incorporating a few simple habits, and using the right treatment methods, it’s possible to keep the body strong and functioning at optimum levels.