Experiencing neck pain without any recent trauma to the neck, like whiplash, may mean the source of the pain is from bad posture. Poor body posture while sitting, driving, working, and even sleeping can put stress on the spinal muscles, joints, and nerves, causing discomfort in the neck.
The muscles in your neck work hard to keep your head upright in the correct position, and every shift in position will shift your muscles as well. Depending on the position, these muscles can either be extended too far or contracted too tight, which may cause neck pain and perhaps even headaches and migraines. This pain usually starts in the neck but has a tendency to advance down to the shoulders and upper back.
The specific muscles responsible for neck pain due to constriction are:
- Scalene muscles – rotating the neck
- Suboccipital muscles – rotating the head
- Pectoralis minor muscles – located in the upper chest
- Subscapularis muscles – located around the shoulder joints
- Levator scapulae muscles – located in the sides and back of the neck
Forward Head and Shoulder Posture
One posture in particular - the forward head and shoulder posture – is a common source of neck pain. People who work in an office environment, sitting at their desk in front of computer screens for prolonged periods of time, will often find their head leaning over their shoulders, and may feel some sort of neck and/or shoulder pain from the position.
This slanted position, with the weight of the head pulling on your neck, is a lot for the lower neck (cervical spine) to handle. Bad neck posture:
- Can play a large role in developing degenerative neck issues, such as degenerative disc disease, later in life.
- Places a burden on your upper back to remain a stable base to offset the pull of gravity from the head.
- May create pain that radiates to the shoulders, as the shoulders and upper back may round and hunch forward, along with the craned neck and head.
Effects of Poor Posture
As the head leans forward, gravity pulls on the lower cervical vertebrae and provokes the discs in that part of the cervical spine to shift and shear forward. This consistent pulling aggravates everything from the tissues and ligaments to the small joints in the back of the neck (facets). As a result, you may experience extreme pain and tenderness in certain neck muscles, decreased mobility in the neck, and disc degenerative conditions like cervical degenerative disc disease, cervical osteoarthritis, or a cervical herniated disc.
Daily Routine Tips to Improve Posture
- Standing – Modern lifestyles have made slouching a regular part of our days, seeping into the way we naturally stand.
Throughout the day, check and doublecheck for any slouching while standing. Try to stand tall, gently pulling your shoulders back and resting your head and neck, without any strain on your upper back. Your core and abdomen should be doing most of the work to support this stance, and your feet should stand solidly hip-width apart.
- Driving – Long commutes add to the substantial amount of time we already spend sitting throughout the day. Long periods of time in traffic may lead to sitting in a slumped posture with your shoulders hunched around your ears.
Try adjusting your height and tilt settings in the car seat to settle into a straight (or as straight as possible) position. While it may feel odd and uncomfortable at first, it will provide better support for your lower back and make it easier for you to hold your head high, instead of tucked towards your chest. At the same time, try to relax and loosen the muscles in your shoulders.
- Working – Living in the digital age, it becomes more and more important to be mindful of how we’re using our electronics. Whether you’re slumped or hunched over your phone or laptop or intensely craning your head to get a closer look at the desktop screen, it all contributes to potential neck and shoulder pain.
Evaluate your workspace and try to position your screen directly at eye level, which can help limit hunching and forward head positions. Setting up an alarm or a reminder to check your posture mid-day could make a big difference.
- Sleeping – While this piece of advice is not totally in your control, sleeping in unnatural, contorted positions can be a contributing factor to neck pain.
Try to fall asleep in an appropriate position. For example, sleeping on your back, head forward, will be the most compatible version to standing tall in your sleep; your body is aligned, and your neck muscles are relaxed and unstrained. The direct opposite of this would be sleeping on your stomach, which forces your neck to strain to the side to breathe properly.
When it comes to pillows, opt for a simple, firm pillow instead of anything too fluffy to better provide the support your neck needs.
If you found this information helpful and would like to learn more about the healthy neck or potential neck issues, see the Neck Anatomy page.
Zimmer Biomet does not practice medicine and makes no representations regarding the third-party information provided herein. These exercises are not a replacement for professional physical therapy or conservative treatment. If you are experiencing chronic pain, consult a doctor to see what treatments might be appropriate by clicking the Reference links contained herein, you will be leaving the Zimmer Biomet website and will be redirected to the applicable Reference website(s) of which Zimmer Biomet has no affiliation.