Sunday 4 December 2016

Moving towards health for your whole body

Published 26/01/2016 | 02:30

Two-thirds of people will suffer neck pain in their life
Two-thirds of people will suffer neck pain in their life

Advice from our GP on neck pain and which supplements and health plan to choose.

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Question: I have had neck pain for some months now. Taking painkillers helps but I don't want to take these all the time. Have you any advice?

Dr Nina replies: Neck pain is very common, occurring in about two thirds of people at some stage in their life. Most simple neck pain occurs due to a mild strain or inflammation in the muscles and tendons surrounding the neck area.

A common cause is poor posture. Those who lean forward at desks or work on computers are particularly at risk of this kind of pain. Pain will be felt across the neck and often across the upper back or shoulders. The muscles may feel tight and tender. Simple painkillers may provide some relief.

Whiplash is another common form of neck pain. This occurs when there is a sudden jolt to the neck, such as that which occurs when hit from behind in a car crash. Thankfully this kind of neck pain also settles in most people, although we are all aware of cases where pain may continue for longer periods of time. Wear and tear in the neck is a very common cause of neck pain. This is called degenerative change or cervical spondylosis. The vertebrae (bones) in the neck change with age and become worn. This may lead to a narrowing in the space between them or small bony outgrowths which can put pressure on nerves, causing pain.

Torticollis may cause sudden pain and twisting of the neck. This can be very painful and occur without any obvious cause. People often go to bed fine and awake with this twisted neck. Thankfully, in the majority of cases, torticollis resolves itself over a few days.

It is reasonable to take simple painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen if you have neck pain. Another good place to start is with physiotherapy. Working on posture and relieving tension and strain in the muscles and tendons of the neck can provide long-term relief from pain. Stay active, exercise regularly, and if your physiotherapist gives you an exercise prescription, do these daily.

Ensuring that your desk chair and computer are correctly aligned will help. Pay attention to your pillow and mattress as poor support at night can make neck pain worse.

X-rays and scans are not usually indicated. If pain is persisting, visit your GP and they can advise you in this regard.

Question: I have decided this is the year to improve my health. I am a bit overwhelmed by all the ­supplements, diets and health plans out there. Which ­intervention is best? Can you guide me where to begin?

Dr Nina replies: There is no one supplement, diet or drug that can do what exercise does. It has the advantage of being free from cost and side effects. There are numerous powerful studies that have shown what exercise can do for our health. Just moving for at least half an hour a day (or an hour for children and teenagers) has huge health benefits.

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by 35pc. It lowers your risk of Type 2 diabetes by 50pc. Exercise plays a role in reducing the risk of colon cancer by 50pc, and breast cancer by 20pc. Exercise remains important as you age. It reduces the risk of osteoarthritis by 83pc, hip fracture by 68pc and falls and dementia by 30pc. Exercise is hugely beneficial to our mood, reducing anxiety by 48pc and depression by 30pc. In fact regular exercise reduces our risk of death from any cause by just under 30pc.

The greatest benefit seems to be for those who go from doing nothing to doing something. Those who are obese and exercise fare far better in the health stakes than those who are obese and don't move at all. We know that sitting is bad for your health. A large Australian study showed that those who watch TV for more than six hours a day reduced their life expectancy by five years. Six hours of TV may seem like a lot, but if you change that to screen time, including phones, computers, etc, there are many of us who meet this criteria.

The health benefits of exercise have been known for a long time. Hippocrates told us that "walking is man's best medicine". The proof keeps mounting. We could all do with moving more.

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