Although you may not pay it all that much attention, the neck has a pretty crucial job to perform. It provides support for the head and allows movement in a variety of directions so you can better see and navigate the world around you. But as we discussed in our last newsletter, the neck is also an extremely common site of pain on account of how frequently it’s used, and this pain can stand in the way of a satisfactory quality of life.
A wide array of factors can contribute to the development of neck pain in any given individual. Unfortunately, some of these factors are completely out of your control, like the age-related changes to the cervical spine that make certain neck conditions more likely to occur. These are considered non-modifiable risk factors and simply have to be accepted since nothing can be done to alter them. On the other hand, modifiable risk factors are those that each individual has the capacity to change. And in doing so, you have the power to reduce your risk for encountering neck pain.
Two modifiable risk factors that can strongly influence your chances of getting neck pain relate to where you sleep and work. These are the two places that many of us spend the majority of our time on any given day, which means that how you position your body—particularly your neck—in each of them warrants your attention. Below are some of the best tips to improve your posture and positioning at your bed and at your work desk to lower your risk for neck pain.
Tips for better posture while sleeping
We spend roughly one-third of our lives sleeping, so the habits we develop in both our sleeping patterns and in how our beds are set up can have a major impact on the rest of the day. Sleeping in the wrong position or on a pillow that’s not supportive enough can lead to neck pain immediately or may contribute to it gradually over time. Try the following to optimize the setup of your bed:
- Avoid stomach sleeping: the best sleeping position is on the back, followed by the side, while stomach sleeping turns the neck to the side and can lead to neck pain; sleeping positions are often established earlier in life and can be difficult to change, but trying to start a night’s sleep on the back will increase your chances of remaining in that position
- Use the right pillow: make sure your pillow is of the appropriate firmness for your neck; different types of pillows are better for different individuals, but a good rule of thumb is to try to use a pillow that keeps your upper spine in neutral alignment, which means the natural curve of the neck is supported and maintained; feather and memory foam pillows may be helpful, while pillows that are too high or too stiff should be avoided
- Maintain healthy sleeping habits: getting the recommended 7–9 hours of sleep each night is associated with a host of health benefits, one of which is a reduced risk for neck pain
Tips for better posture at your work desk
For the many individuals that work in an office of any sort, another significant chunk of each day is spent sitting at a desk. As with bed setups, the way in which a workstation is arranged affects the neck and can play a part in the development of pain. To ensure that your workstation is not adding any strain to your neck, we recommend the following:
- Make sure your computer is at eye level and not too close or far away from you; you shouldn’t have to crane your neck down or strain your eyes to look at it
- When seated, the feet should be flat on the floor and the back of the chair should be in an upright position
- Keep the keyboard directly in front of you, close by, and at a height so your shoulders are relaxed, elbows slightly bent, and wrist and hands straight
- Consider using a document holder placed next to your computer to avoid constant neck movement when switching between the two
- Avoid neck strain when using your phone by raising it to eye level, taking frequent breaks, and minimizing phone time
- Use a headset or headphones if you are on the phone frequently
- Use a neck pillow for flights and long car rides
- Regularly perform stretching and strengthening exercises for the neck to keep it flexible and strong
In our next newsletter, we’ll look into some of the ways you can alleviate neck pain on your own if it’s bothering you right now.