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COVID-19 is a real pain in the neck.
Among icky mask-related side effects including “mask mouth” and maskne, your annoyingly necessary face covering could be behind yet another unwanted physical symptom: a stiff, achy neck.
The American Chiropractic Association has observed a connection between people spending long periods of the day in masks, and increases in jaw pain, neck stiffness, eye tension, upper back pain and headaches.
“Masks can limit the lower field of vison —particularly if they are not well fitted — causing people to tuck in their chins, shift their body position and hold their necks and posture stiffly to maintain a line of sight,” an ACA announcement read.
Ninia Agustin, a clinical director at Spear Physical Therapy in Times Square, said that while ill-fitting masks are most likely not the sole cause of a patient’s neck pain, they can absolutely be a contributing factor.
“Impediment of the peripheral vision [when wearing masks] is a real thing,” she told The Post. Why? “I can’t just look down with my eyes; I have to look down with my head and neck.”
Doing this quickly every now and then won’t cause a problem, said Agustin. But, “If I’m going to look down at my belly button to read a text message and stay there for 30 minutes, of course my neck is going to hurt,” she said.
Agustin said that because wearing masks is still necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus, it’s crucial that people take the time to find ones that fit correctly.
The CDC advises that good-fitting masks will not have gaps on the sides of the face or the nose, and will have ear loops that allow the mask to sit comfortably close to the face. The ACA said that it shouldn’t drastically impede your field of vision, either. Test out a few different masks and look side to side and around to make sure you can see, noting if you’re changing your body position to compensate.
Other sources of increased neck and upper back pain may be coming from your work-from-home set-up and increased stress levels, said Agustin.
The best way to prevent this is to move as much as possible. “Motion is lotion,” the physical therapist advised. “The more you move your neck, the better off you’re going to be. Posture isn’t static, it’s dynamic. Whenever you’re working or on the phone, be mindful of moving every hour, minimum.” If you can’t get up, make sure to do a quick neck or shoulder roll instead.
There are other ways to alleviate the pressure, like a side neck stretch. “Put your arm behind you. Take your other arm, wrap it around your head and gently pull toward one side,” Agustin advised. Repeat on the other side.
If neck pain or upper back pain remains persistent or is particularly intense, you should get it checked out by a doctor. “If you notice any numbness or tingling down your arm,” pain that’s waking you up at night or severe headaches, “you definitely want to get that checked out sooner rather than later,” said Augustin.
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