Working as a medical professional can be, well, quite a workout. If you’re a nurse or physician, you’re likely running from patient to patient all day, spending long periods standing and bending over in uncomfortable positions. Sound about right?
There’s nothing wrong with being on the go, and it’s a sure way to get in all your steps. But the truth is, the kind of runaround you’re used to doesn’t give you the same type of full-body relaxation (or endorphins) as yoga or taking an invigorating, mind-clearing walk. In fact, the “workout” you do at work can actually cause your body plenty of pain, from head to toe.
While we can’t change the intense nature of your work (though we do applaud you for all you do!), we want to help you avoid neck tightness as much as possible. We also understand that prevention isn’t always possible. There will be days when you get home from work with sore shoulder and neck muscles no matter what you do.
This article will provide tips on curing that stiff neck with easy, safe at-home remedies.
Common causes for neck pain in medical environments
Recent studies on neck pain in nursing can clue us in on some of the common causes and effects of this condition. One study showed that tasks like reaching, pushing and pulling (which nurses are doing almost constantly) are some of the most common causes of neck pain.
Also, there’s a side effect of neck pain you might not expect. In the same study, nurses with neck pain reported feeling far less mentally healthy because, in short, the pain caused psychological distress.
So, whether you’re a nurse who is pushing and pulling patients around all day or a doctor who is craning in uncomfortable positions, it’s important to prevent and treat this neck pain so that it doesn’t negatively impact your mental health.
How to avoid neck pain
Even if neck pain is par for the course in your line of work, this doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to prevent it. Get in the habit of practicing the tips below, and, hopefully, you’ll end your shift in less pain.
- Remember to stretch: Neck pain is a real pain in the neck. So, try to avoid hunched and uncomfortable positions that might affect this area. Stretch after doing any pushing, pulling, or lifting. Here are some stretches you can try:
- Squeezing your shoulder blades together
- Rolling your shoulders forward and backward
- Moving your head from side to side
- Turning your head from side to side
- Move around: Depending on your job, you may constantly be in motion at the hospital. But, if the job requires prolonged standing, try to shake yourself out and move. Even walking up and down the hallway will help.
- Get the right gear: Medical professionals, especially nurses, carry a lot of necessary equipment with them all day, and the weight of these items adds up. Get a fanny pack made especially for medical professionals and avoid totes and heavy backpacks. You can also try wearing scrubs with plenty of pockets to evenly distribute your gear across your body and not carry the weight in just one place.
- Avoid your phone: We know your cell phone may be the first place you want to look on your break, but staring down at your phone can exacerbate neck pain. Sure, check your messages, but keep it brief if neck tension is a concern.
How to relieve neck tension and pain
You’re likely seeking relief when you get home in pain after a long shift. So, how can you relieve neck tension and pain? Start by asking your partner, family member or roommate to heat dinner or order your favorite takeout while you take some time for yourself to reduce your neck pain with these simple tips from the Cleveland Clinic:
- Ice and heat: This duo works to reduce inflammation—A classic DIY treatment for muscle pain. Start with ice for the first day or two, then switch to heat by using a heating pad or a warm shower.
- Take OTC pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers can also help reduce swelling. As a medical professional, you’re far more versed in pharmacology than most, but ibuprofen and acetaminophen are generally good choices.
- Get a massage: A rub-down doesn’t have to be professional to be effective, but if you get an at-home massage from a partner or friend, make sure safety comes first. You don’t want to worsen neck pain. If you are not working with a professional, ask the person to direct their movements toward the heart and use gentle motions. If the massage feels painful, stop.
- Sleep right: Start with the right pillow. Experts recommend a firm one or a specialized neck pillow. Then get into the proper position (many experts recommend sleeping on your side or back).
- Get professional help: Meet with an acupuncturist or chiropractor, and create a pain relief plan that works for you. For more severe cases of neck pain, try working with a physical therapist.
- Do exercises: Bending and rotating your neck in a specific, guided way can help decrease the pain. Meet with a physician or physical therapist to learn safe exercises that you can practice in the shower or after using a heating pad to relax your neck.
We appreciate the work you do and know how difficult it is on both the mind and body, so count on us to keep researching tips to help you live your best life in and out of the hospital, clinic or wherever you practice medicine. After all, you spend your days (and sometimes nights!) doing your best to help others feel their best. Our priority is doing our best to make sure you look and feel great in great scrubs, too.