By Pippa Bowden

The workplace is a common cause of tension headaches and neck pain. Poor ergonomics, work patterns and postures can lead to painful knots developing which can refer pain to the head, neck, upper back and shoulder areas.

Did you know that there are over 20 muscles in your neck and face?

  • Clenching your jaw and grinding teeth – common reactions to stress - can stress the facial muscles and cause pain.
  • Difficulty with seeing information on your screen causes your eye muscles to work much harder to focus, leading to fatigue and eye strain. You may also be placing your body in awkward postures to see the monitor, causing more strain.
  • The back of the vertebrae overlap to form facet joints and these may become irritated by looking up, for example, when your monitor is too high. When this area becomes inflamed, common symptoms can include a sharp pain when you're turning your head to reverse your car.
  • Disc problems in the neck are more likely to occur from prolonged bending forwards, for example when doing paperwork or when the monitor is too low. If the discs bulge backwards, they can put pressure on nerves and if these become irritated, they can cause severe pain as well as pins and needles or numbness in the arms or hands.

If you have had a previous injury such as a whiplash, fall or surgery, you are definitely more predisposed to hurting yourself. The body heals with scar tissue which is less mobile and not as strong as normal tissue. Pain can continue even though your body has healed and this results in muscle spasm and a lowered threshold at which your muscles start to feel pain.

So how can you manage tension headaches and neck pain?

Step 1 - Maintain a neutral spinal position and correct the alignment of your spine from the bottom.

Step 2 - The correct positioning of your chair, monitor, keyboard, mouse and paperwork will optimise neck and head postures.

Step 3 - Maintain strength and flexibility of the neck and shoulder areas by doing the specific stretches for these areas as on your exercise sheet.

Step 4 - The use of heat combined with stretching can offer good relief for neck and shoulder areas.

Step 5 - Get active by joining gym, Yoga or Pilates classes so that you have a physical outlet for your stress.

Step 6 - If you are still in pain, make sure you get a diagnosis and see your physiotherapist or doctor.

The good news is that a lot of preventative measures are in your hands. So be proactive with this information and work smart.

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