Almost 70 per cent of 10 Americans experience neck pain at some point in their lives. Stretching and strengthening exercises have long been considered a key component for keeping the neck strong and healthy.A Danish study published in 2007 demonstrated that women with neck pain who practiced specific strength training (SST) exercises for the neck and shoulder muscles experienced substantial pain relief.

Neck pain is usually triggered by repetitive use or holding the neck and shoulders, in a poor position as a result of either stress or poor posture habits or both.

There are many options to consider that can be done simply on your own:

* Stretching exercises. An example are shoulder shrugs. With your arms at the side, breathe in slowly as you shrug shoulders up toward the ears, breathe out as you lower them to a relaxed position. This gentle, repetitive motion works the trapezius muscle in the back of the neck, relaxing this common site of tension. Head tilts also relieve muscle spasms in the neck and increase range of motion. Wrap your right arm around the left side of your head so your right hand is under your left ear. Gently stretch your head toward your right shoulder and count to 10. Repeat on the other side. Try to perform these exercises four to six times each during the day.

* The Danish study focused on dumbbells. These consist of five exercises — the arm row, shoulder abduction, shoulder elevation, reverse flies and upright row — targeted toward strengthening the neck and shoulder muscles. Note, however, that in the study these exercises were performed under the close supervision of trainers. If you’re interested in giving specific strength training exercises a try, you should contact a personal trainer to teach you how to correctly perform them.

* Take breaks hourly. Long hours at the desk or computer can leave you achy and stiff. Take time once an hour to practice shrugs and head tilts, stretch the muscles and break up the tension. Also, change position frequently. These measures will pay off over the long run.

* Stand (and sit) up straight at all times. Proper posture and alignment of the entire body is critical for ease and comfort in both the neck and back. While sitting, alignthe base of your spine to the top of your head, with shoulders slightly back and the lower back slightly curved out. While standing, adjust this slightly, now picturing a straight line through your body, into the ground beneath your feet. Place your feet shoulder width apart, bend knees slightly and find the place where you’re neither leaning forward nor backward, but perfectly balanced, with head directly over your feet. If you are doing it correctly, you’ll notice less tension in the neck and shoulders.

* Fix your workspace. Little changes can be significant in reducing neck strain and pain. For example, make sure your computer monitor is at eye level… sit up straight with your feet resting comfortably flat on floor… use a desk with armrests that create an angle slightly greater than 90° for your arms.

* Get a headset for your phone. Crooking the phone between your ear and shoulder in order to talk hands-free is one of the worst things you can do to your neck.

* Try self-massage. You can give yourself a pretty good self-massage by putting two tennis balls in a long tube sock. Lie on your back on the floor, rolling these under your shoulder blades and upper back to massage the shoulder blades and break up muscle spasms in the upper back, which connects to the neck muscles.

* Relieve neck pain with heat and cold. When your neck is sore, try a hot pack to soothe the pain… or try a cold pack… whichever feels better.

The treatment of neck pain depends on correctly identifying and addressing its cause, since there are different solutions for muscle pain versus pain from pinched nerves, disk injuries, worn disks or prior trauma.

For neck pain unrelated to stress (such as osteoarthritis), other options such as chiropractic manipulation, ultra high frequency electrical stimulation, gentle horizontal traction using a pneumatic device (similar to a blood pressure cough), yoga, acupuncture, and massage therapy may be of assistance.

If neck pain persists, more aggressive management may be necessary.

These can include anti-inflammatory drugs, injections of cortisone or lidocaine, botulinum toxin, and rarely surgery.

: article by Nathan Wei