Constantly yearning for a neck massage? Your chronic pain, muscle tightness, and achy joints might be trying to tell you something:

Practice Bad Posture

While the hunching of the back and slouching and slumping when you sit can often lead to lower back, or lumbar spine, aches and pains, it is your neck as well that bears the brunt of much of your bad posture. The onslaught of digital device use over the past couple of decades has brought on a phenomenon known as Forward Head Syndrome, where your neck and head crane forward past your shoulders from staring down at devices like laptops and smartphones.

This forward head and neck position places added strain on connective muscles, tendons, and ligaments leading to neck pain, inflammation, and severe muscle tightness. Experts recommend practicing good posture by sitting up straight, avoiding staring down at screens, and exercising to strengthen core, back, and neck muscles.

Sleep in Awkward Position

Rubbing a sore and stiff neck every morning when you get out of bed? Your pillows and sleeping position could be to blame. Sleeping with too many pillows, or super high (thick) or firm pillows could actually cause your neck to stay flexed all night, instead of relaxing while you rest. Sleeping on your abdomen can have a similar negative effect as well, as you are not supporting the natural curve of your back and your neck is turned to one side when you sleep on your stomach. Harvard Medical School recommends sleeping on your side and trying feather or memory foam pillows for better and healthier sleep.

Carry Purse on Same Shoulder

Many women will experience neck pain targeted to one specific side of their neck, and chances are good that it’s the side they carry their purse on. Why is that? The average purse may vary from 3 to 10 pounds or more depending on what is inside it. Over time, the strap weighing down on the same shoulder day after day can take it’s toll, tugging and pulling on the adjacent neck muscles which stiffen to work even harder to stabilize the neck and spine.

In addition, the constant pressure on soft tissues and nerves in the neck and shoulders exacerbates the pain and inflammation. Experts suggest that purse-carriers regularly audit and empty their bags of unnecessary items as well as regularly switch the shoulder with which they carry their purse.

Cradle Phone With Neck

Can’t find your headset or earphones? Chances are you are guilty of taking work or personal calls on a smartphone without a headset, and so as a conversation carries on, you take to cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder. This angling of your neck to keep the phone in place while you do other things like type on your keyboard is both an awkward and unnatural body position which requires your neck muscles and tendons to work extra hard. When possible, always use a headset, bluetooth earpiece, or earphones when talking on a hands-free device.

Experience Whiplash

“But I haven’t been in a car accident,” you might be saying. While whiplash is common for victims of rear-end car collisions, it’s actually the result of any incident which causes your head to jerk forwards and backwards in a forceful and rapid movement. Some people might not realize they have whiplash until their chronic and annoying pain results in a trip to the doctor and recommendation to wear a cervical neck brace. The Mayo Clinic shares that most whiplash symptoms dissipate within a few months with treatment from a doctor including pain medicine and exercise.

Carry Around Emotional Stress

Chronic emotional stress and anxiety can physically manifest themselves as muscle strain and tension, especially in the neck and shoulders. This can lead to headaches, inflammation, pain, and soreness which seems to build as stress and worries pile up. Mindfulness exercises like practicing yoga can serve a dual purpose of helping stretch and strengthen the neck while also honing in on relaxation through deep breathing and meditation techniques.

Want to address your neck pain for good? Small lifestyle changes like correcting bad posture and being smart about how you carry your purse and talk on the phone can make a big difference.