Tension neck syndrome

Tension neck syndrome is a term that encompasses a variety of disorders involving the neck and shoulder areas, collectively called “cervicobrachial” – cervico (neck) and brachial (shoulder or arm).

These terms describe an element of neck and shoulder pain (cervicobrachial) due to a muscular (myalgia) component and are responsible for much work loss. This is a common problem among office and factory workers who experience mental stress along with motions requiring repetition or work in poor postures for prolonged periods. This syndrome involves the sensation of neck, shoulder and upper limb pain, with objective signs of tender and stiff muscles, sensitive, hard areas in the muscles felt as tight bands or nodules, and spasms. These sensitive areas in the muscles called trigger points can cause pain and numbness or tingling to radiate to more distant regions of the head, neck shoulders and upper back, but are not related to nerve compression. These strained muscles can produce unusual sensations related to the nervous system and have been thought to be a psychological reaction, to the work involved in their occupation.

Aching where the neck and shoulders connect is the most common symptom in this syndrome. The Pain may be only on one side of the neck, shoulder and/or upper arm or on both sides. The pain may be intermittent related to activity or continuous. It can be a dull aching pain or severe at times, interrupting work. There may be tingling, numbness, e.t.c. abnormal sensations experienced at times by the sufferer.

The exact cause of tension neck syndrome remains somewhat obscure. A common theory is that it is caused by a sustained contraction of muscle groups in a stationary position, which produces an accumulation of waste products and/or lack of blood circulation, which results in long term and persistent (chronic) muscular fatigue and muscle pain. It is a combination of mental and physical factors. Repetitive fast movements involving the muscles of fingers, wrists, hands and arms, neck and head, puts them to stress. This happens in everyday work with office workers and factory workers. It can also be with other skilled and semi skilled workers like electricians, plumbers, masons, e.t.c. Those working on the computers continuously for 4 hours or more per day are at greater risk. Women are more prone than men to develop this problem. Monotony of the job, intense concentration involved, ,poor lightning and noise are other factors that add on the physical stress. Though it is a benign problem, it does lead to sickness, absenteeism from work and loss of work efficiency and productivity in institutions. Diagnosis of, “Tension neck syndrome”, is established by excluding infection, inflammation, trauma or compression to be the underlying cause. This is done by investigations like x-rays, C.T. scan and M.R.I.

Prevention consists of correct working posture in work involving neck and upper limbs. One should avoid bending of the neck. Avoid talking on the phone with phone hanging between head and neck and neck cranked on one side supporting it. The computer or any reading/writing material should be adjusted such that work can be done comfortably without bending the neck. One should try to take a short break in between 2 to 3 hours of working. A healthy nutritious diet including calcium, vitamin B.complex, magnesium, and anti oxidants is useful in keeping muscles strong. Diet should include fresh green vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, milk and milk products with healthy meat like fish. Exercise that increase flexibility and strength of neck, arms, wrists, hands and fingers helps to avoid stiffness, cramps and pains of muscles. While sleeping, a thick pillow should be avoided as that also strains the neck muscles and augments the problem. Mental relaxation plays a big role in avoiding Tension neck syndrome.

Pain killers can be used for pain relief to be followed by physiotherapy.