In a car, adjust the head restraint so that it sits as near the top of your head as possible—no lower than three inches below the top and no farther than three inches from the back of your head. New regulations for front-seat restraints require a space of no more than 2.2 inches from the back of the head. Many people call these restraints “head rests,” but they are there for safety, not comfort. They’ve been mandatory in front seats for many years. Most cars now have them in both the front and back seats.
Check your posture by standing in a relaxed position with your back flat against a wall; your head and shoulders and buttocks should rest easily against the surface. Think tall and stand tall. Push up against an imaginary weight on top of your head. Another posture improver: pull your shoulder blades back while walking or sitting.
Thrusting your chin out as you work at a computer can lead to neck pain. When using a computer, make sure the center of the screen is slightly (10° to 20°) below eye level. If you have to bend forward to read the screen, move it closer, enlarge the type size, and/or consider a new eyeglass prescription. Laptops are especially likely to cause neck strain. If you tend to hunch while using a mobile device, do this stretch: Sit up and look straight ahead; turn your head to the left and look over the left shoulder; hold position for five seconds, then release it. Repeat on the right side.
Avoid lugging a heavy shoulder bag or backpack. Only carry what you absolutely need. For greater comfort, choose a shoulder bag with a wide strap. Also, look for a backpack with extra padding at the straps, and wear the backpack on both shoulders. Adjust the straps on all bags, so they don't hang below your waist.
With your doctor's permission, try these exercises. Upright row: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, hold weights in front of thighs (palms toward thighs). Slowly pull them up in a straight line close to your body, until they reach the middle of your chest and your elbows point up and out. Keep shoulders down and elbows slightly higher than weights throughout. Slowly lower; repeat 10 times, for 2 or 3 sets. Lateral raise: Hold weights at your sides at thigh level. Slowly lift them out to the sides until horizontal; keep elbows slightly bent. Slowly lower; repeat 10 times, for 2 or 3 sets.
Neck pain usually goes away by itself in a few days. Try over-the-counter pain relievers, along with heat or icing. Do what feels best. Liniments and rubs have never been shown to be useful. Gentle massage may help. If you don’t improve in a few days, or if the pain gets worse, see a doctor. You may benefit from a referral to a physiatrist, osteopath or physical therapist. Such specialists can recommend further treatment and evaluate your posture and help pinpoint the cause of your neck pain.
A type of neck sprain or strain, whiplash usually occurs in a rear-end collision, when the torso is pushed forward by the impact and then jerks back, “whipping” the cervical spine. Neck pain and stiffness are usually the first symptoms, though headaches, dizziness, arm pain and other problems may occur. The first line of treatment is to take a pain reliever and return to normal activities. Cold or hot packs may relieve pain. If you seek medical help, keep in mind there is little solid evidence for one treatment over another. Massage or steroid injections may help. A cervical collar that immobilizes the neck can slow the healing process. Most people recover in four to six weeks.