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Most people don't realise quite how heavy their heads are!
The joints in the neck and the muscles that make up the neck are there to support and protect the vital nerves that travel between the brain and the rest of the body, keeping us breathing, moving, digesting, etc. etc.
It is incredibly important to look after our necks and this applies especially at work, when our postures can lead to joint degeneration, muscle strain and headaches.
The joints in the neck are quite small so any problems can quickly manifest as symptoms in the body: frequently the shoulders, arms and hands. The low segments of the neck are usually the ones to degenerate as we get older; this can lead to weakness in the hands and arms or painful symptoms around the back of the neck or shoulders.
Keeping the neck mobile and functioning properly can often be helped by performing certain exercises - don't wait till you have symptoms, ask your Osteopath today about what you can do to reduce the chance of future problems.
Treatment for neck pain can involve stretching the muscles around the head, neck and shoulders; manipulation to any restricted joints in the neck; muscle energy techniques (which are effective ways to stretch muscles with the patient's assistance); traction and pressure at the base of the head.
You may have concerns about manipulations to the neck and some sceptics try to instil fear about these techniques. However, the chance of a serious reaction to treatment is actually less than the chance of having an adverse reaction to common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) your doctor may prescribe. Dabbs and Lauretti (1995) produced a research report "A risk assessment of cervical manipulation vs. NSAIDs for the treatment of neck pain". Their conclusion stated that "cervical manipulation for neck pain is much safer than the use of NSAIDs, by as much as a factor of several hundred times. There is no evidence that indicates NSAID use is any more effective than cervical manipulation for neck pain'.
After injury, e.g. whiplash due to a road traffic accident, collars are useful to give stability to the neck whist soft tissues heal.
However, reliance on these collars can worsen matters in the long term. When we do not use our muscles fully, they start to lose muscle bulk or waste away. Since our head and neck relies on the support of the muscles for stability, any weakness in this area can lead to joint problems or worse.
It is much better to get the head moving as soon as possible, using a guided exercise program as well as appropriate treatment, to ensure long term benefits occur. You may need to alter your posture or have an ergonomic assessment of your workstation if you work at a desk or computer.
Neck or head rolling exercises should not be performed unless you have been guided how to do these movements without straining the neck joints. It is safer to perform the basic movements of the head when stretching the neck muscles - e.g. head forward/backward and head rotation to the left/right.
Always let your Osteopath know what exercises you are currently performing and ask if you are doing them correctly. Having a sheet of exercises to take home with you can be useful, if you understand the pictures. Have a check-up at least monthly to ensure you are still performing the movements without causing any problem to the joints or muscles around the neck or shoulders.