Chronic neck pain is common in office workers, with a lifetime prevalence as high as 78% in a study of military office workers by De Loose, Burnotte f, Cagnie et al. Pain is considered chronic when it lasts more than 3 months. Several research studies using EMG (electromyography) suggest that psychological stress contributes to neck pain by causing excessive and prolonged muscle activity in some individuals.  This elevation of muscle activity is commonly seen in the upper trapezius muscle. This muscle elevates or shrugs the shoulders up toward the ears. Most readers will not be surprised by these findings.

As this article is being written, the holidays are in full swing, and the cold is bearing down on the Seacoast. These two things combined will have folks with their shoulders up around the ears in constant tension. Physical therapy provides an effective solution, but results can be suboptimal if chronic neck pain is treated as purely mechanical. A large number of individuals will have symptoms that are aggravated due to psychosocial stress. This subset of individuals will fair better with a combination of traditional physical therapy complimented with psychotherapy aimed at developing coping skills for managing stress in the workplace. Some helpful psychological interventions may include diaphragmatic breathing, guided imagery, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness techniques.

The hallmark of physical therapy at Seacoast Body Balance, LLC, is our holistic approach. For this reason, we often may refer to, or work in tandem with a clinical psychologist trained in these techniques. We will also come into the workplace to make sure the ergonomics in the workstation are modified according to OSHA guidelines. We commonly observe a patient performing a work task that is painful to offer alternative postures or movement patterns that are less stressful or painful. So if your job is literally, a “pain in the neck”, don’t quit just yet.  Solutions are available to provide relief without sacrificing your paycheck.


Melissa, PT