A pain in the neck!

The Problem

If you have experienced neck pain, you will know how disabling it can be. We know that two thirds of us will experience neck pain at some point in our lives. Of those, three quarters will have a relapse of their symptoms within five years.

Neck pain will affect women more than men, and is most common in middle age. Statistically, the pain is most likely to be mechanical in origin. Signs and symptoms can include;

  • pain around the neck, which can spread to the shoulder, shoulder blade and base of the skull
  • associated muscle stiffness or spasm
  • pain aggravated by particular movements, postures and activities and relieved by others
  • associated headaches
  • restricted range of neck movement

How likely are you to get neck pain? Well some people are genetically more likely to get pain in the neck. However, those who smoke, have poor physical fitness, and develop poor postures are more at risk.

We are now more sedentary than ever before and the postures we adopt will put our neck at risk.

Think about mobile phone use on your commute to work and the posture of your neck……..


Even before you have reached work you have been using your smartphone and loaded your neck joints and ligaments.

Then when you are at work is this a familiar scenario for you?

Or this?

We tend to adopt a “poky chin” type posture when holding prolonged position which looks a bit like this…..


Adopting this type of position will put stress on the ligaments at the back of the neck, which will result in the neck being less supported. It also means that the core muscles will not work as effectively, again resulting in less support around the neck. This will ultimately, over time, give rise to pain.

The Pain 

Problems with the neck will often give rise to pain. This pain can be one sided, or affect both sides of the neck. It can radiate round to the front of the neck, and can also travel down into the shoulders. Sometimes, despite the root of the problem being the neck, the pain is felt only in the shoulder and arm. It is also common to experience headaches too.

Often you will notice a loss of movement. This can often be decreased rotation- so you can’t turn your head as far to one side.

The pain can travel down one arm and into the hand. This pain can be more “nervy” and can be quite sharp or shooting. Occasionally this pain can be associated with altered sensation and even loss of power. If this is the case then we advise seeing your GP, and then having a course of physiotherapy.

The Solution

The principals of recovering from neck pain are very similar to that of back pain. If you are in severe pain, then firstly we need to improve that. Addressing your desk set up at work can help to correct poor postures such as the one above. You may need to visit your GP to start some pain relief. Physiotherapy can also be helpful to address some of the tight soft tissue, or to mobilise stiff joints.

Pilates exercises focuses on working the whole body in excellent postures. It is an extremely effective method of rehabilitation for spinal pain. If you have mechanical neck pain, and you are not in severe pain then Pilates will work on your posture, gently strengthen the core muscles around the neck and stretch the neck out. During Pilates, we will exercise your deep neck muscles, in a variety of positions. Occasionally we have clients who feel pain in their neck during Pilates. We will always stress that feeling the muscles working is normal, however pain in the back of the neck is not. At this point we would suggest a 1:1 Pilates session to check your positioning, or some physiotherapy to check the neck is moving as it should.

Why not try these simple exercises as a starter for 10?

The Exercises

  1. The Strengthener

Keeping your pelvis in neutral, and your feet in contact with the ground, gently lift the head, chest and arms off the mat, keeping the back of the neck long, and looking down towards the mat. Don’t be tempted to extend the neck and look forwards. Hold for a few seconds then lower. Repeat 6-8 times


2. The Stretch

Place on hand behind the back, and the other on the side of your head. Gently pull the ear down towards the shoulder. Turn the head slightly to change the stretch. Hold for 20 secs three times.

3. The Loosener

Lie your head on an ovaball and gently rotate the head slowly from side to side 10-15 times.

Please do the above with caution and under guidance of your Pilates instructor or physiotherapist. If you would like to make an appointment with pilatesplusphysio, then please call 0131 226 5009 or email info@physioplusedinburgh.co.uk