5 Surprising Causes of Neck Pain

You’re already aware of common causes of neck pain like muscle strain from weightlifting, carrying a heavy bag on the same shoulder every day, even stress that intensifies muscle tension. But did you know about these more surprising neck pain culprits?

Sinus Problems

Do you suffer from chronic sinusitis? This frustrating form of sinus infection is especially common during months with high seasonal allergy counts. In addition to causing symptoms like a runny nose, headache, jaw and ear pain, sore throat, and cough, sinusitis can also result in radiating neck pain and fatigue. How exactly? Infection that thickens mucus and clogs the sinuses right behind the eyes (sphenoid sinusitis) can inflame the lining of the sinus and increase pressure on the whole cavity. This radiates into pain in the neck, forehead, and ear.

Smoking

Add neck pain to the long list of reasons to quit smoking. Turns out nicotine abuse can compromise the integrity of small blood vessels that are critical to the health of your spine. 2016 research from the Association of Academic Physiatrists found that smokers have higher rates of cervical degenerative disc disease. Simply put, this means the discs that serve as cushions between the vertebrae in the neck region of the spine are more likely to deteriorate faster if you smoke cigarettes.

Excessive Drinking

Having a little too much fun partying every weekend with your friends? Well your over-consuming alcohol can negatively impact the quality of the sleep you’re getting. Instead of making small adjustments and repositioning yourself throughout the night to stay comfortable as humans typically do, when you’re intoxicated, you move much less and may remain in a poor position that strains the neck.

Smartphone Use

The term colloquially used to describe Forward Head Syndrome, text neck, is no joke. The average human head weighs 10 to 12 lbs when aligned with the spine. As it is tilted forward out of alignment, however, the pull of gravity increases the pressure on the spine requiring the neck and back muscles to compensate. Research has shown that habitual craning of the neck and downward tilting of the head when using a smartphone can result in mild to severe neck and back strain (that could require serious treatment, even surgery, down the line).

Constant Gum Chewing

While your gum chewing habit might help you relieve stress or manage your appetite, the constant and prolonged jaw movement can actually strain muscles in your neck and head. In addition to aching neck pain, you may experience tension headaches as well as stiffness and spasms in the muscles connected to your jaw.

Quick Tips for Treating Neck Pain

Neck pain isn’t uncommon, but that doesn't mean you should simply put up with it. Lots of small, thoughtful changes and updated lifestyle habits can help:

Cold and hot therapy - Applying a cold pack to inflamed or spasming neck muscles can help to numb painful nerve endings and constrict blood vessels to limit swelling. Alternating with heat can then soothe and relax built-up muscle tension to further relieve pain.

Massage - increase circulation to aid in recovery from muscle pain in the neck with targeted massage, either from a massage therapist or a portable neck massager you use at home. Kneading trigger points in the neck can help relax muscles and stimulate production of feel-good hormones.

Practice better posture - when it comes to using a computer or smartphone, practice good posture habits like raising your computer monitor up to eye level, holding your phone in front of your face when texting or using apps, and making calls with a headset instead of texting or cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder.

Spinal manipulation - getting a professional spinal adjustment from a chiropractor could help realign your spine and offset some of the stress on the soft tissues in your neck that are working overtime. Alternative therapies like acupuncture have been shown to aid neck pain sufferers too.

Assess your bed - make sure that your mattress and pillow are supporting a good night’s sleep and the health of your neck tissues. Your pillow shouldn’t be so thick as to angle your head up when sleeping and your mattress should be firm enough to support the natural curvature of your spine.

Neck exercises - routine exercises that stretch and strengthen the neck muscles can help reinforce healthy spinal alignment and promote flexibility in the neck, back, and shoulders. Practices like yoga and tai chi are a great place to start.

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