Is Your Teen Suffering With Neck Pain?
Neck Pain (NP) has become a very common complaint, with reports that it is increasing among teens between the ages 16-18 years old. Little research has been done to investigate how NP affects head posture and endurance in the neck muscles of teens.
New research recently published in the journal Manual Therapy examined how NP affects head posture and its impact on variables related to neck muscle strength. The study found that teens with NP have less ability for normal forward head posture, less neck flexor and extensor endurance, and greater asymmetry in the relationship between neck flexor and neck extensor endurance capacity.
This suggests that neck pain in teens should be taken seriously.
It’s also important to note that since NP can become chronic and persist for many years, understanding its evolution and discovering strategic interventions is key to preventing the pain from becoming an ongoing and long term quality-of-life issue. Many of the tests that assess neck weakness and neck pain are geared to full size adults, so researchers also wanted to see whether the available clinical tests are appropriate for evaluation of the teen age group.
The small study involved 70 teenagers in grades 10-12 during the 2013/2014 academic year. The researchers screened all 452 students using a self-reported questionnaire, and excluded any students with confounding health disorders, congenital neck abnormalities or teens who had head and neck trauma history. In the resulting test group, 25 girls and 10 boys had neck pain, while 22 girls and 13 boys never experienced neck pain (control group).
The researchers assessed forward head posture, neck flexor endurance, and neck extensor endurance, using standard and accepted clinical tests. The 35 teens with NP were also asked to describe intensity, frequency and duration of neck pain, and whether the pain interfered with activities of daily life.
Neck pain findings
The researchers found teens with NP had:
• Less forward head posture than the asymptomatic teens
• Less neck flexor endurance than the asymptomatic teens
• Less extensor endurance than the asymptomatic teens
Study limitations included the fact that the clinical assessment tests were geared to adults with NP and not validated specifically for teens; this was not a double-blind study, which is considered the golden standard in clinical studies; the teens got easily distracted during the tests, which can have an impact on test results and reliability of the findings.
The study’s value
The researchers still feel that the results confirm the importance of identifying neck pain and intercepting it in the teen population since it has long term impairment consequences. Given the prevalence of tech devices in the teen population, with “staring down for hours” a daily phenomenon, even young children could be at risk of early neck pain. The average head can weight up to ten pound. That weighted pull on neck muscles as the head bends to stare down at an iPhone while you text, or an iPad or laptop that a teen works on for hours, if you count school worktime and playtime, means an almost constant pull and tension on neck muscles. Strategies that limit the number of hours a teen bends their neck and that increase neck strength as preventive measures should be an important focus in child and teen physical training and exercise efforts.
If your you or your teen are experiencing neck pain, see your doctor and find out if you can alleviate the pain by performing these basic neck exercises to improve strength. He may also suggest that you or your teen see a rehabilitation specialist or a physical therapist to address neck weaknesses.