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When Life Becomes a Pain in the Neck

May 06, 2015 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
Many doctors warn that neck pain and problems will soon be epidemic. Keeping our faces buried in our various devices is clearly the bad posture perpetrator. (We’ve all seen that viral video of the lady walking right into the fountain at a shopping center because she is consumed with looking down at her phone.)

But you don’t have to be a gizmo zombie to be susceptible to neck pain—it can be caused by arthritis or degenerative disk disease, declining muscle strength, stress, and even lack of sleep, according to Dr. Zacharia Isaac, medical director of Comprehensive Spine Care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and director of interventional physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. Thankfully, he does point out six tips for easing the kink.

Don’t stay in one position for too long. It’s hard to reverse bad posture, Dr. Isaac says, but if you get up and move around often enough, you’ll avoid getting your neck stuck in an unhealthy position.

Make some ergonomic adjustments. Position your computer monitor at eye level so you can see it easily. Use the hands-free function on your phone or wear a headset. Prop your touch-screen tablet on a pillow so that it sits at a 40 degree angle, instead of lying flat in your lap.

If you wear glasses, keep your prescription up to date. “When your eyewear prescription is not up to date, you tend to lean your head back to see better,” Dr. Isaac says.

Don’t use too many pillows. Sleeping with several pillows under your head can stifle your neck’s range of motion.

Know your limits. Before you move a large armoire across the room, consider what it might do to your neck and back, and ask for help.

Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep problems increase the risk of several different conditions, including musculoskeletal pain.

Neck pain is usually nothing to worry about. But if it is occurring with other, more serious symptoms, such as radiating pain, weakness, or numbness of an arm or leg, make sure you see your doctor. This holds true if you have an unexplained weight loss associated with your neck pain.

--Sarah Hagerty
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