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What’s killing your neck and how to fix it

August 7, 2020

 

Talk about a big pain in the neck.

 

Neck pain can vary from a minor annoyance to a debilitating condition, and a growing number of people are well on their way to ensuring lifelong pain. One of the most common causes is one of the most innocuous: posture.

 

Smart phones and computers have added ease of access and many other advantages to modern life. You might watch someone stoop to read messages on their phone and think nothing of it. Someone who has studied neck pain will see the same scene and know something bad is happening. Fortunately, this type of neck pain that comes from our modern stooped posture is easy to prevent. It’s not always as easy to fix.

 

What can happen if I have stooped posture?

Over time, bad posture can lead to a loss of curvature in your neck, compressed discs, strained muscles, nerve damage, and, most horrifying for teenagers, a hump. There can be a loss of stability, making any type of neck injury more likely. The muscles become too sore as they try to maintain proper posture and can’t. When the head is forward, it puts more weight and pressure on the vertebrae, which can lead to degenerative problems and disc disease.

Damage in the neck can compound upon itself. Small injuries can become worse than they need to be. If the nerves become involved, it can cause problems up and down your back, neck and arms. Eventually, the entire spine gets in on the action and a fix becomes even harder to find.

A slumped position also makes it harder for the heart and lungs, causing you to not get enough oxygen. That by itself can lead to conditions you don’t want to have.

Lifelong problems that can be solved ahead of time by simply maintaining proper posture. It’s not just something annoying that parents say. Posture is important for overall health.

How do I know if I have bad posture?

Stand against a wall, with your back flush to it. Your heels should be aligned shoulder width apart, with your shoulder blades and buttocks against the wall. You don’t want to touch the tops of your shoulders to the wall, you want to focus on the blades themselves. If the back of your head does not touch the wall, your head posture is too far forward, and you can be on the road to problems.

How can I maintain proper posture?

The most common site of bad posture is while sitting at a computer for hours. We tend to slump and stay that way, and this is what you want to avoid. You want your computer monitor to be right in front of you while you’re sitting straight, so you’re not looking up or down at it. A laptop stand and external keyboard can help put your laptop screen in a better position. You want your back touching your chair, with your hands resting lightly on the keyboard and your elbows at 90 degrees.

Smart phones are another problem. We’re constantly looking down at them and wearing out our necks. You might think it looks strange to keep your phone raised to eye level, but that’s what you should be doing. Treat it like a computer and watch your posture.

No matter what you’re doing, take breaks. Make sure you have plenty of motion throughout your day. With smart phones in particular, forcing yourself to use proper posture and take breaks has the added benefit of greater interaction with the world. It’s a win-win.

What are some ways to fix improper posture?

There are some exercises you can use to strengthen your neck. For long term problems, you definitely want to think about seeing a physical therapist. A physical therapist can assist you with even short term issues and can determine which exercises are best for your specific situation. He or she can also walk you through how to do the movements safely. You might be a candidate for something like a Posture Pump, which can help realign cervical posture. The best way to know what’s best for you is to ask. We are talking about your neck here. You don’t want to make it worse.

Which any exercise, you want to start slow, maybe with only one repetition. You can build up over time. Overdoing it will just cause more issues.

One simple exercise is to stand against the wall as described above. Touch the back of your head to the wall and pretend you’ve got a string coming out the top. Pull it up to create a longer neck.Your chin will tuck forward. This is what you want. You don’t want to simply roll your head back.Your goal is to lengthen the neck into correct posture. Stay that way for one minute, then relax. Add more reps later as your build up.

Another good movement is a nose nod. Lie down with bent knees and look up at the ceiling. Without moving your neck, nod your head forward slowly. You want to make a small arc using the tip of your nose. Do this very slowly. Return to normal position. Repeat five or ten times. As you get used to it you can double the amount and eventually do two or three sets a day. When you’ve mastered the motion, you can do these up against the wall while standing if you want to.

Similar to the nose nod are advanced chin retractions. Stand up straight or sit in a chair. Do a typical nose nod, but once retracted, keep your chin in place and slowly move the top of your head back. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly go upright again and then relax out of the chin retraction. Start with five or ten reps and work up from there. If your posture is already pretty bad, this might be hard to do at first. Don’t rush it.

Stretching is good, and a doorway stretch is a good way to target your chest, which can help with posture. Put your right forearm against a door frame so your elbow is at 90 degrees and your forearm is flush to the frame. Step forward a little with the right foot while your forearm stays in position. Hold it for about 30 seconds, then do the same thing with your left arm.

The shoulder blade squeeze is another good method. While sitting straight, make sure your neck is long and your legs are at 90 degrees to your body. If your shoulders are tense, work to relax them and let them drop. Hang your arms at your sides. Squeeze the shoulder blades toward each other, like you want them to touch. Hold for a few seconds and release slowly and relax. Do this ten times. Over time, you can hold it for ten seconds. Eventually work up to two or three sets a day. Adding strength to the shoulders this way can raise your chest and help correct your posture.

If your neck issues are moderate to severe, you may need more than simple exercises. A physical therapist and your doctor can help determine how severe your situation is.

If you don’t yet have forward head posture, you’re ahead of the game. Maintain proper posture and you’ll avoid a lot of complex problems that come from simple mistakes.

 
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