Neck pain is the worst, like the absolute worst. You don’t think anything of it until you’ve spent three hours slumped against a plane window. You don’t think it’s a big deal until your neck’s so stiff you can’t even turn your head to merge into traffic.
Plenty of things can cause neck pain, but one of the most common culprits (and of the simplest ones to fix) is posture.
Your mom didn’t just tell you to sit up straight so you’d ace your job interview — your posture affects the alignment of your entire spinal column. When you’re slumped, your discs are out of alignment, and you create pressure points where none are supposed to exist.
This pressure results in the compression of disks, which can create blinding nerve pain that extends all the way to your arms.
It’s debilitating, and it’s a really fast way to ruin a vacation.
Bad Posture Causes Neck Pain
All of those ergonomic desk chairs and work shoe insoles aren’t just marketing gimmicks. People do a lot of things that put their spines into unnatural positions throughout the day. When you’re not free to roam about the cabin or leave your desk, you wind up staying in a position of malalignment in your spine for way longer than you should be.
Staying stuck in that position for hours on end compresses those nerves in your spine, with effects that can last for weeks. Shooting pains down to your elbows, limited mobility, and a general inability to even think about how much pain you’re in is the result of sitting or standing in the wrong position for way too long.
When your spine is in alignment though, the pressure on those discs is normal, your nerves get plenty of blood flow, and everything works the way it’s supposed to.
Neck Pain and Mental Health
Neck pain is so uncomfortable that studies have actually linked it to issues with brain fog and mental health.
The science behind this is “because the spinal column contains our spinal cord, nerve roots, blood vessels, supports the load, and provides many muscle attachment points, it is incredibly important to overall function and well-being,” says Jana Montgomery, a Senior Clinical Research Scientist.
Patients with ongoing neck and nerve pain are often so affected by the discomfort that they deal with mental health issues and struggle with focus.
And who can blame them? In some cases, neck pain and associated nerve pain has been compared with the pain of childbirth. If the cause isn’t identified and rectified, some people wind up resorting to pain medication or surgery to fix it — anything to escape the discomfort they’re in.
Extreme neck pain has even been linked to a loss of balance and coordination because it even weakens the eye muscles.
How to Prevent Neck Pain
Due to the intensity of the pain caused by spinal misalignment, preventing neck pain is a lot simpler than treating it. Even if you have to stare at a computer all day at work or travel a lot for work, there are basic steps you can take to ensure you’re not immobilized by neck pain.
#1 — Don’t Stay in the Same Position for Too Long
Whether you work on your feet or at a desk, sit, stand, walk, and take lots of breaks. The key isn’t necessarily using a standing desk or sitting on a yoga ball, but changing up your position as often as possible to prevent bad posture from compressing parts of your spine.
#2 — Bring a Neck Pillow for Flights
Trying to sleep on a plane without a supportive neck pillow is a fast way to freeze up your neck for the weekend. Use a supportive travel pillow to keep your spine in alignment on your flight, even if you don’t think you’ll fall asleep.
#3 — Use Bluetooth Headphones With Your Phone
Phones are way too skinny these days to be trying to prop them between your ear and your shoulder. Pick up a Bluetooth headset instead to handle calls if you like to keep your hands busy while you talk.
#4 — Use a Pillow At Night That Supports Your Neck
Big and fluffy pillows may feel good at first, but you’re looking for spinal alignment here — not to feel like you’re sleeping on a literal cloud. Contour pillows are a great way to support your neck and keep your spine in alignment if you’re prone to waking up with a stiff neck.