How to Heal and Help Your Neck After an Injury
From Crunchy Painful Neck to Pain-Free
I was hit by a car while walking a few years ago and I also happen to work full time in an office, using the computer mouse everyday and typing for many hours. A vertebrae in my neck is permanently in the wrong position, and yet I am able to carry on a normal life pain free, and I have even run a 5K race.
In this article I will share all the tips and tricks that have helped me "save my neck".
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Tips for a Pain-Free Neck ~ Time and Care
Get excellent help, but listen to your body. After the car accident I was homebound for quite a while. When I was ready to resume a more active life, I had to put up with a constant "crunchiness" in my neck when I looked side-to-side. Over time, this has healed up. Soon after the accident I was seeing a spine specialist and then a physical therapist. I even went to a spine class that my insurance offered. The physical therapist and the spine class did not help me that much though. I could tell that after doing the intensive exercises that the physical therapist put me through, my neck had had enough and my spine hurt more than ever. I went through not just muscle fatigue, but a deep pain that told me there was something very wrong. I decided to see a chiropractor on my own, although I was able to get a discount from him because of my insurance. I did a lot of research to find my chiropractor, and in the end I chose a chiropractor that had been involved in extreme sports prior to his practice. After suffering an injury, and learning how to treat it through proper chiropractic care, he devoted his life to learning the practice. I feel I chose a chiropractor who was deeply involved in the practical side of spine health, and he worked with me in a more natural, slow way, checking my entire body for tingles and numbness, and being extra careful when adjusting my neck and spine alignment. The most important thing was I learned from him the daily habits and adjustments that I could make in my life that have enabled me to have an active lifestyle and very rarely endure neck pain.
Good posture. Pay attention to your posture in your daily life, when you drive, when you watch TV, when you read a book. If you work as a server, you may be in the habit of constantly leaning down to help your tables. If you're a student, you may spend too long hunched over books or leaning toward a computer monitor. Try to do less leaning over in general and find better ways to do things. For instance, I worked in a deli where I had to lean way over and down and then lift heavy bowls and trays around. However, it would've been possible to open the display case from the front and then to move the items, without my back having to take the brunt of the workload. Your habitual ways of moving often contribute a lot toward future and current back pain.
Dump the purse. Purses put a lopsided weight on your body, causing your neck and shoulder muscles to compensate. I would recommend switching to a small backpack and to keep it light-weight by choosing carefully what you put in it. You can downsize your purse and choose a light-weight cell phone. You can choose smaller sizes of the items you carry or just decide to leave them at home. When you're carrying something heavy, I either hold it in my hands or move the backpack to the front of my chest. Having a backpack hanging off your back forces your head to stick out and that's not good for your neck. You can also get a carry-cart or a small suitcase with wheels to lug your stuff around. Your neck and back will thank you.
Travel lightly. During my healing journey I became a fan of others holding my stuff for me, and of leaving heavy items at home. I suddenly did not have a desire to burden my poor neck and back with any kind of a load. I also found which way of carrying things helped me, and which hurt me. I liked coats with pockets, because then I only had to carry my keys and a coinpurse which I used as a wallet. I purchased the smallest, most light-weight cell phone I could find. In general, I became very aware of how much I was accumulating as I went about my day, and I tried to keep it as light as possible so my neck, shoulders, and back could take the break they needed.
Watch your ergonomics at the office. I do not like office chairs with arm rests. I like chairs that hold me up higher rather than lower. My arms like to be a bit lower rather than higher when typing or using the mouse. I don't lean forward with my neck to see the monitor ~ instead, I make sure the monitor is at a good height. If it's not, I'll prop it up with a phone book or move it closer. Adjust your environment so that you'll have good posture when you're working at an office. Also, I take breaks from sitting and working often, stretch my arms, hands, and neck, and I also don't pound on the keyboard. You can type just as well by typing lightly. Less impact on your hands translates into less impact on your neck muscles.
Do not cradle the phone with your shoulders. Using a headphone set will save your neck. If you must use a regular phone, take turns with each ear so that one side does not have to do more work.
Adjust your bike to suit your neck and back issues. My chiropractor taught me this tip, and I'm very grateful to him for it. While it is popular to lean tightly over your bike when you ride, it's better for your neck to have a more upright position. Get a bike that helps you with this. You can also buy an extender for your handlebars at a bike shop. This will bring your bike handles up to you so you won't have to lean over and extend your neck out when you ride.
If you're a woman, dump the heels. They may be fashionable, but they may be causing you neck and back pain, so wear comfortable flats instead of heels. Your toes may also thank you.
Notice the wear on your shoes. Your shoes will show the daily wear they take over time. If you look at the heels, you'll often notice they may take more on one side (like the outer) rather than the other. When your shoe heels are uneven, even if they are still comfortable, it's time to get new shoes. Your body can get used to moving around in uneven shoes, but that doesn't mean it's good for your overall posture.
Consider purchasing a Posture Pump neck hydrator. This was another gadget I got through my chiropractor that helped me hydrate the neck vertebrae with blood flow. You lay down and put the ring around your head and strap it on. You use a pressure pump to inflate a baloon that lifts your neck at its natural arch and keeps a constant pressure. My chiropractor advised me to do this for 10 minutes every day. Afterwards, my neck would feel good, as though it had a painless massage inside. The blood that goes to your vertebrae hydrates your muscles and your vertebrae, helping prevent future damage to your neck and helping to heal the area. I would talk with your chiropractor to see if this device will work for you.
Use a ring travel pillow when you travel. Choose a ring pillow that provides sturdy, yet comfortable support. This way if you fall asleep on a long flight or during a long car ride your neck will not be stiff and achy afterwards. You can purchase these at airports and they have ones that you can blow up and then fold away.
Sleeping. I have found that sleeping without a pillow is best for my neck. I only use a very shallow pillow when I sleep on my side. When I'm flat on my back, I rarely use a pillow as I know that I'll wake up with neck pain in the morning.
Neck and back extensions. You can purchase a metal bar to put over your doorway or just go to your neighborhood school-ground or park. Hang from the bar for a few minutes and relax your body. This will relax the muscles in your back. You can also hang from your knees upside down at a playground, and relax your muscles in your back and neck. Have another adult help you with this so you don't injure yourself, and if you are not absolutely confident that you can do it safely, then don't do it. The other person can hold your knees so you won't slip, and then help you to get off once you're done.
Swimming pools. If you know how to swim, floating, backfloating, and swimming slowly at a nice glide also helps your back. The water helps with an even distribution of your weight and so your muscles relax into a better alignment. If you are still at a very sensitive stage, have a friend help you as you float so you're able to relax. They can hold your head or back as you backfloat which allows you to completely allow your muscles to relax.
Back massagers. You can purchase a back massager that you put over a chair to give yourself a treat every once in a while. You can also get massages which will help circulate blood and stimulate your muscles. Be careful though, if you are sensitive. Get a Swedish massage and tell them to be gentle, and communicate with the masseuse if you experience any pain.
Get rest. Make sure your bed does not have a sink-hole in it. It should be firm and yet giving. Rest really helps your back and neck heal up. Don't try to do too much too soon if your back and neck aren't ready. I know that there were times when an over-the-counter pain reliever would take away my neck pain. But I wouldn't go bowling that night just because I was pain-free.
Keep hydrated and stay healthy. Being overweight adds more strain to your frame. Eat a healthy diet and stay hydrated. Stay fit, but of course, listen to your body. Walking is healthy and will help you stay fit if you're unable to do more strenuous exercise because of your neck or back injury.
Tips that Helped Me During a Back or Neck Spasm
Back and neck pain can be excruciating. Here are the things I did when I experienced a back or neck spasm during the time after the accident, as I was healing:
Freeze immediately and get out of the painful position I was in. Lay on my back on a flat surface. Sometimes this would stop the pain and I would stay very still. Curl my lower legs onto my chest and rock gently back and forth. Sometimes I found getting on my knees and crouching over, rounding my back helped also. The important thing was that I found a way as quickly as possible to get my back and neck into a better, pain-free alignment, and then I would hold that position, slowly relaxing my back and neck muscles into the better alignment.
A Pain Free Life
Getting rid of neck and back pain permanently is an ongoing process that involves keeping good posture habits, and monitoring how my actions will impact my neck or back. I hope these tips give you ideas on managing your neck or back pain so you too can live a pain-free life.
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