There’s a reason we adopted the phrase “a pain in the neck” to describe something annoying.

There’s nothing quite so irritating as neck pain.

Just think about it. How many times do you turn your head, look down at your desk, or look up at your computer screen. When your neck hurts, it limits your movement, causes headaches and interrupts your daily life.

Your neck is a vital framework of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves attached to your spine.  It’s less protected than the rest of your spine and is especially vulnerable to injury. Neck strain also can interfere with the function of other muscles and nerves in your body as the tight muscles and ligaments stress other areas of the spinal column.

The most common neck injuries often stem from poor posture at the computer.

Computers have become a cornerstone of life at work, school and at home. While computers make some things in our lives a little easier, they can have a negative impact on our posture and neck health.

According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, nearly half of the office workers involved in the study complained of neck pain within the last year. One in ten of these employees missed work because of neck pain.

The University of California-Berkeley conducted a similar study with graduate students. They found more than 60 percent of students suffered from neck pain due to long hours in front of a computer.

Even if you’re physically fit, if you use a computer all day, you may be at twice the risk for neck strain than a person who does not work in an office.

To avoid neck pain, it’s important to improve the flexibility and strength of the muscles supporting your head and shoulders.

Easy exercises can prevent neck pain.

When doing the following exercises, you should feel a gentle stretching sensation. If you feel pain, stop. Avoid bobbing or bouncing while you stretch and continue breathing throughout each exercise.

  • Shoulder roll: Keeping your head upright, warm up your neck muscles by shrugging your shoulders, working to close the gap between your shoulders and ears. Slowly press your shoulders back until you feel an easy stretch. Repeat these motions seven to 10 times.
  • Head roll: With your hands at your sides, gently drop your chin to your chest then roll your head to the right, bringing your ear close to your right shoulder. Bring your chin back toward your chest, then roll your head toward the left shoulder in the same way. Roll your head in this semi-circle pattern seven to 10 times.
  • Neck rotations: Place both of your palms gently on your temples above your ears. With your hands still in place, gently turn your head to the right, bringing your chin parallel to your right shoulder. Pause and repeat the motion by bringing your chin toward your left shoulder. Repeat five to 10 times on each side.
  • Neck tuck: Standing or lying on a flat surface, use two fingers with gentle pressure to slowly tuck your chin. While doing so, your head should glide backward over your body. Hold this position for a few seconds then relax. Repeat the motions eight to 12 times.

When in doubt, consult an orthopaedic provider.

It may be time to see a healthcare provider for your neck pain, if it:

  • Is severe or persistent
  • Radiates down your arms or legs
  • Accompanies headaches, tingling, numbness or weakness

These symptoms may indicate a serious problem.