Life can be a literal pain in the neck sometimes. Aching, tingling, or throbbing neck pain is a reality for 67 percent of us.
But constantly popping pain pills can be risky. And going under the knife isn’t just an extreme solution. Neck and back surgeries often fail to relieve the pain, and can come with a slew of side effects of their own.
But a drastic, spine-exposing surgery isn’t your only option. Because it turns out some common habits we’re all probably guilty of from time to time could be behind your neck pain.
Neck pain triggers that could be behind your agony
Keep reading to find out the seven most common habits that cause neck pain.
1. You sleep on your stomach:
If you suffer from neck pain sleeping on your stomach is a real no no. When you tuck in on your tummy, you force your neck sideways as you turn your head, and back as you adjust for your pillow. It’s a set up for agony.
And if you’ve indulged in a few too many cocktails before bed, the damage could even be worse. When we’re intoxicated, we don’t move around as much in our sleep. Which means you’ll likely spend longer in this unnatural neck position.
Try to fall asleep on your back, which helps put your neck into proper alignment.
(Did you know stomach sleeping isn’t a good idea for anyone? Click here to find out more about how wrong sleeping causes pain.)
2. You’re using the wrong pillow:
Picking the right pillow (and using it correctly) can make all the difference between spending the day in agony and spending it neck pain free.
Too many pillows: A stack of pillows on the bed might get a gold star from your decorator. But it can spell disaster for your neck. Piling too many pillows under your head forces your neck to bend too far forward. After a few hours in this unnatural position, it’s really no wonder you wake up with neck pain.
A soft pillow: A puffy, cloud-like pillow may seem appealing at first. But a pillow that’s too soft just doesn’t give your head and neck the support they need. The result is neck pain.
Wrong head placement: If you perch your head at the end of your pillow with your neck and shoulders hanging off, neck pain is sure to follow. If you’re using a traditional pillow your entire head and neck, as well as tops of your shoulders should rest on it.
Pick a pillow that supports your neck without raising it too high. Many neck pain sufferers find a round barrel pillow (a “neckroll”) placed under the neck is the only pillow they need. Experiment to find out what works best for you.
3. Your mattress is too hard or too soft:
Neither a puffy, soft mattress nor a rock hard one will support your body properly. Either way you end up sleeping with your spine out of alignment, and this can trigger neck pain as well as back, hip and joint pain.
Just like with pillows, you should be looking for a mattress that’s somewhere between feather-soft and stiff as a board. If replacing your mattress just isn’t an option right now placing barrel pillows under your neck, the small of your back and under your knees can help put your body into better alignment.
4. You chew a lot of gum:
Chewing an occasional piece of gum isn’t usually a problem. But if a gum habit has you chomping away all day long you could have just found the source of your neck pain.
Pain experts say regular gum chewing can cause the muscles in your jaw to tighten and spasm, which can extend into your neck. If you suspect chewing gum may be contributing to your own neck pain, give up the habit for a couple of weeks to find out.
5. You carry a heavy bag:
Ladies, if you carry everything but the kitchen sink around in your purse, you might want to think about lightening the load. And guys, if you’re lugging around a messenger bag or briefcase the size of the state of Montana, this applies to you too.
A heavy bag changes your posture by pulling your shoulder down. Your back and neck have to compensate for the added weight and drag. This stresses the muscles in your neck, making you hurt.
6. Your desk is set up incorrectly:
As you sit there reading this on your computer screen think about your posture. Is your neck straight? Are your shoulders back, and are your feet flat on the floor?
If you’re like most people, the answer is probably not. Slouching and a computer screen that’s either too high or too low are common causes of neck pain.
Adjusting your chair and desk height can go a long way towards alleviating neck pain. Check out our report Sidestep pain with computer desk ergonomics to help you rearrange your workspace properly.
7. You’re on the phone too much:
It used to be that tucking a phone between your ear and shoulder was the cause of a lot of back and neck pain. But these days, more often than not, the problem is looking down at your phone or tablet rather than talking on it.
We rely on our smartphones and tablets to stay in touch these days, which means we spend a lot of time on them. But no one raises his or her smart device up to eye level. Instead, we hold our phones at around waist level and drop our eyes to use them, and that can cause neck pain.
Researchers say tilting your head 45 degrees puts 49 pounds worth of pressure on your neck.
Try to spend less time on your smartphone. Need to chat with a coworker? Take a walk to her desk instead of instant messaging her. Want to catch up with a friend? Use a landline on speaker. Or better yet set up a lunch date. And when you must use your cellphone or tablet try lifting it up to eye level, and make it a quick session.
Don’t let life become a literal pain in the neck. Making these seven changes could be the key to erasing your neck pain forever.