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These Factors Could Lead to a Real Pain in the Neck
  • Robert Preidt
  • Posted April 26, 2021

These Factors Could Lead to a Real Pain in the Neck

Neck pain? Poor posture can cause it, but may not be the only reason why, new research suggests.

Lifestyle is a key culprit -- particularly long periods of time spent hunched over handheld devices or working on computers. So a team at Texas A&M University set out to learn just how big a part personal factors play in neck pain.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments in which 20 men and 20 women with no previous neck-related issues did controlled head-neck exertions until they were too tired to continue. That's similar to what might happen in the workplace.

As expected, the researchers found that work-related factors like posture played an important role in determining neck strength and endurance.

But while they found no significant difference between men's and women's neck endurance, body mass index (BMI) was a significant predictor. BMI is an estimate of body fat based on height and weight.

To their surprise, time of day also affected how well the neck sustained exertion without tiring.

"It is intuitive to think that over the course of the day, our necks get more tired since we use it more," said lead researcher Xudong Zhang, a professor of industrial and systems engineering. "But roughly half of our participants were tested in the morning and the remaining in the afternoon. Also, some of the participants had day jobs and some worked the night shift. Despite this, we consistently found the time-of-day effect on neck endurance."

The findings were recently published online in the journal Human Factors.

Zhang noted that neck pain is among the fastest-growing causes of disability. It is the fourth-leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

"Our study has pointed to a combination of work and personal factors that strongly influence the strength and endurance of the neck over time," Zhang said in a university news release. "More importantly, since these factors have been identified, they can then be modified so that the neck is in better health and pain is avoided or deterred."

Zhang said researchers might have the data to begin evaluating if patients recovering from neck injuries are ready to return to work based on whether their neck strength and endurance are at normal levels.

He said engineers and designers could also use the data to design wearable devices, like helmets, that are less stressful on the neck.

More information

The American College of Rheumatology has more on neck pain.

SOURCE: Texas A&M University, news release, April 20, 2021

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