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     Volume 8 Issue 94 | November 13, 2009 |

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A Pain in the Neck

Neck pain is one of the most common ailments, restricting free movement of head, neck and shoulders, creating a lot of problems for sufferers. Doctors estimate that 7 out of 10 people will experience neck pain at some point in their lives. It is said that some 9 million people suffer from neck pain in the US alone. Although some of this pain results from acute injury or conditions such as cancer or infection, the most common cause is overuse or misuse of muscles and ligaments. Today's computer-heavy workplaces are notoriously unfriendly to the human neck. Working in a hunched-over position for long hours is a frequent cause. Working so that you must lean your head forward, to better see what you are doing. But an injury may also have occurred. A common cause is stress, insomnia, or arthritis.

Neck pain is most often related to injury, tension, arthritis, or chronic misuse of the neck. However, in rare cases neck stiffness may be a sign of bleeding or infection (meningitis, encephalitis, or an abscess) within or around the brain.

A stiff neck may be a symptom of one of these serious conditions when it:
* Develops rapidly and occurs along with other symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting, fever, headache, sleepiness, confusion, extreme grouchiness, or a seizure.
* Occurs in the middle of the back of the neck (not to one side or the other) and causes pain when the person tilts the head backward or forward. The person may be unable to move the chin toward the chest, for example.
* Is unexplained (for example, there was no injury and the person did not sleep in an awkward position).

When you're in a "wrong" sleep position, the neck ache comes on gradually, which is why it doesn't startle you when you awake. Also, doctors say, when you're sleeping, your muscles aren't active, so the pain doesn't really start until you're up and the muscles begin to work. Then, swelling and inflammation increase the pain and suffering.

You can address minor neck pain yourself, but you should see a doctor if:

1. You have a headache and fever, and your neck is so stiff that you can't touch your chin to your chest.

2. Your arm or hand is numb, weak or tingly.

3. A fall, strike or injury caused the pain. Seek immediate care if you cannot move your arm or hand; this could indicate pressure on a spinal nerve, pressure on the spinal cord,a herniated disk, or a bone spur. In rare cases, especially in older individuals, it could mean a bone has been broken.

4. You have a lump in your neck or swollen glands.

5. It's difficult for you to swallow or breathe

Self-care for minor pain
Medication. Take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or aspirin.

Move wisely. Try not to let the neck stiffen up. Perform gradual, gentle movements -- up and down, side to side, ear to ear -- to encourage range of motion. Gently massage the sore area. Do not jog or lift weights, which will increase neck stress.

Ice it. Apply ice during the first 48 to 72 hours. Then switch to heat(hot showers, compresses or heating pad).

Change the bed. Sleep on a firm mattress. And either use a special "neck pillow" that supports the neck without raising the head, or skip thepillow completely. If a pillow is too thick, it can force the neck forward, possibly increasing pressure on intervertebral disks.

In order to prevent neck pain, follow these simple tips:
* Do neck exercises each day, to stretch your neck muscles and strengthen them.
* To stretch those muscles, slowly tilt your head forward, back, and from side to side.
* To strengthen muscles, put your hand on the side of your head and push. Then do the other side, and then the back and front. Hold light weights (3-5 pounds) in your hands, keeping your arms straight while shrugging your shoulders.
* Or do this: Lift your shoulders easily and let them flop down a couple times. Do not push them down.
* Sit in chairs which give you good back support.
* Sit up, not forward. Keep your head level and pull in your chin. Arrange your work so you can look forward, and not downward, most of the time. Do not sit in any position too long.
* Stop every so often and take a break. Get up, stretch, and do a few simple neck exercises.
* Your car seat should be high enough so you can comfortably look forward.
* Do not compensate for your height. If short, do not lift your shin up; if tall, do not slump.
* Do not sit with most of your weight on the back of your neck.
* Always carefully lift things with the legs and not the back.
* Step on a firm (orthopedic) mattress.
* Sleeping position is important. Do not sleep on your stomach, but on your side or (best) on your back.
* Keep your neck warm when you are outside in the cold. Avoid letting a draft chill it while sleeping.
* You may do better with a smaller pillow or no pillow at all. Do not sleep on thick, hard pillows.
* Avoid tilting your head when talking on the phone. Instead, keep the head balanced and upright.
* When you brush your hair, keep your head straight; do not bend it to the comb.

Source: Health Online


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