In my twenty years of being in the chiropractic profession, I’ve seen a lot of strange ways people have injured themselves. I’ve often walked away thinking “and you thought that was a good idea at the time?” Most people equate back pain with lifting something heavy, but it is rare that I hear a patient say they have hurt themselves lifting something they shouldn’t have been lifting in the first place. In today’s era of computers, cell phones, and tablets, these modern conveniences have created a whole new set of problems. We have created a new modern malady that afflicts many – the aptly named “Text Neck.” Around the Cary and Morrisville areas, we have no shortage of people sitting in front of computers or some type of screen every single day. A recent study released some statistics that were rather startling.
- All age groups spend as much time in front of a PC/laptop/tablet/phone screen as they do asleep in bed
- Adults 55 and older average 6.64 hours in front of a screen
- Adults 18-24 spend on average 8.83 hours in front of a screen!
- 84% admit to suffering from back pain in the past year
- This group loses more working days to back pain than their parents’ generation (1.5 days more)
- Their pain is more likely to be experienced in the upper back and neck
When most people look at their phones and portable devices, they do it primarily with a head down, flexed neck posture. It’s no wonder they have upper back and neck pain.
What happens when we carry our head forward like this? First, we need to discuss what is good posture. If we look at someone from the side when they are standing, you should be able to draw a vertical line from their ear through their shoulder, and down through their hip. When someone is standing with perfect posture, there is very little muscle activity taking place to hold our head in the proper position. The spine is in a neutral position; it’s not flexed, bent or rotated. With this neutral posture, there is no strain placed on the joints, ligaments, or discs.
Ideally, the head should sit directly on the neck and shoulders like a golf ball sits on a tee. But when we begin to flex the neck forward, the weight of our head is more like a bowling ball than a golf ball. The head weighs about 12 pounds. If we have our neck flexed at a 15 degree angle, its weight effectively reaches 27 pounds. At a 45 degree angle, that weight becomes 49 pounds, and at 60 degrees – 60 pounds! That is like having a small child hanging off of our neck!
This forward neck posture leads to strain on the discs and increases the potential for disc herniations. It places a tremendous strain on the ligaments in the neck, which may cause them to become lax – or loose, which can lead to joint instability. It places extra strain on the joints and may lead to early degenerative joint disease or arthritis. It causes your neck and upper back muscles to be in a constantly contracted state – which leads to muscle fatigue, tightness and usually an accompanied burning pain.
3 simple upper body stretches for neck pain
To counteract the damage we do to ourselves, I’ve created a simple 3-step routine you should incorporate into your daily schedule several times a day.
1) Bruegger’s Upper Body Stretch
The stretch helps to counteract all of the forward flexion taking place in our neck, shoulders, arms and upper back. Sit up nice and tall, while maintaining the curve in your lower back. Let your arms hang down at your sides and fully extend your elbows. Allow your shoulders to fall back and downward, with a simple contraction between your shoulder blades. Rotate your hands so that your thumbs are turned out as far as they can go, and then separate your fingers as wide as they can. Retract your chin as if trying to pull the curve out of your neck. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds. Repeat this stretch 3x.
2) Behind the Back Stretch
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, arms by your side. Reach both hands behind your backside, and clasp your right wrist in your left hand. Use your left hand to gently straighten your right arm and pull it away from you slightly. As you are doing this slightly look up towards the ceiling with your neck. As with all stretches or exercises, don’t forget to repeat the process by switching to the other side. Hold this stretch for 10-15 seconds. Repeat 3x.
3) Neck Stretch (Upper Trap and Levator Scapulae)
This stretch is performed seated. Sit up straight. I instruct my patients to sit on their right hand. Next gently lean your body to the left to feel a slight pull sensation in the neck. Look to the left by rotating your neck about 45 degrees. With your left hand, grab the back of your head and pull your neck gently forward so that your are looking into your left armpit. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds and repeat three times. Repeat the process while sitting on your left hand and using right hand to pull you towards your right armpit.
The best way to prevent any injury is to reduce your exposure to harmful events. That 18-24 year old age group with almost 9 hours in front of a screen! Seriously, put it down folks! Look around you! There’s a beautiful world out there.
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