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Thursday, January 23, 2020  

Oh, My Aching Neck!Published 9/11/2007

Upper back pain is one of the most common generalized discomforts expressed among women. There are many simple self-care remedies that you can do to reduce muscle and joint aches, as well as pains of the neck and shoulder region. However, before you embark on treating your aching neck and shoulders, do yourself a favor. Find out what is causing those discomforts and kiss those self-care remedies good-bye!

The cause is usually pretty easy to determine and can result from a variety of poor posturing such as incorrect positioning or moving which results in strained muscles, sprained ligaments, or joint inflammation; as well as hunching over our work, carrying a heavy purse or backpack, and cradling the phone between the neck and shoulder. And further still, many suffer from aches and pains that are related to emotional stress which manifests in tight shoulder and neck muscles.

The best way to deal with upper back pain is to prevent it in the first place. Self-awareness is key to prevention. Pain is a signal that something is wrong and the minute you experience any type of dull ache, shooting pain, or a pins and needle sensation is to stop and look at what you are doing. Let’s explore a classic scenario for upper back pain – the computer. We all have one, either at work or in the home. Some of us use a laptop while others a full desktop system.

The problem is not with the type of computer used but the way in which you are positioned in front of the computer. Do you sit in bed with a laptop nestled upon your thighs and you hunched over it? Or perhaps you have your desktop located on a corner of the kitchen table with the keyboard elevated so that you are in a shrugged-shoulder position over it?

What is your body telling you? Usually within thirty minutes you should feel discomfort in the form of neck ache, pain between your shoulder blades, and the like. A compressed cervical vertebra or tight trapesius muscles can be very painful. Stop and assess. If you want the cycle of pain to stop then you have to stop it before the muscles become contracted or the nerves pinched. Treatment can be lengthy, painful, and expensive. Wouldn’t it be better to invest in a corner computer desk instead of the corner of your kitchen table? Or what about propping yourself up in bed with pillows and using a laptop table instead of hunching over and laying the laptop upon your thighs?

The computer is not the only upper body enemy. Individuals who still cradle their phone between their eye and shoulder will experience unilateral tightness that radiates either up into the neck or down the arm. Don’t have time to workout during the week and make up for it on the weekends? You too will suffer especially if you fail to stretch regularly to keep your muscles flexible and warm. And let us not forget poor body mechanics when lifting or using a workout machine incorrectly at the gym.

Lastly, don’t forget to assess the weight of your handbags, briefcases, and backpacks. If you must carry a heavy load then at least invest in one of the ergonomically designed messenger packs or a briefcase on wheels.

One area that most of us fail to assess when determining causes of upper back pain is our mattress and other sleeping devices (like that really old black chair that your grandmother gave you). A good mattress (and recliner) doesn’t have to cost a lot and there are so many wonderful products on the market to choose from.

I have an air mattress and can’t imagine how I ever lived without one. I have a friend who swears by her foam-topper mattress and yet when I tried one I found it to lack good air circulation and made my body too hot in the summer. No two beds are alike as well as no two people are alike. So, don’t buy a bed just because you heard it was good. Try out the bed - most will allow anywhere from 30-90 days free at home trial.

A few other areas to consider: ill-fitting bras, medical conditions (such as osteoporosis or frozen shoulder syndrome), driving for a living or frequent flying, a specific injury, and of course the aging process can contribute to upper back pain. Remember prevention is the key so take a little time to stop the problem before it begins. You neck (and shoulders) will thank you for it!

Dr. Mundorff is a Board Certified Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases. Naturopathy is a complementary practice to health care and should be used in conjunction with a competent health care practitioner. Please consult your physician before starting any alternative modalities.

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