It’s a Pain in the Neck

-485540600If you are like me, I have a love-hate relationship with my computer, tablet and my phone. I love the convenience of having access to my work, friends, family and media at my fingertips. However, 24/7 access can also come with the challenge of balancing the constant inflow and outflow of information.

According to digitaltrends.com, people in the U.S. check their social media 17 times per day. That averages to at least once every waking hour of the day! It also cited that, on average, people spend 4.7 hours a day on their phones. If a person is awake 16 hours a day, this is almost a third of the day. This can literally be a pain in the neck!

The constant forward head position that accompanies much of the texting, emailing and Facebooking can really put a strain on the neck and cause neck pain and headaches. When the neck flexes forward, even 15 degrees, it can feel as heavy as a 27-pound weight — more than two times the actual weight of the head (10 to 12 pounds). If your neck bends forward to 60 degrees, it’s equivalent to 60 pounds!

Here is an analogy that helps explain the jump in weight your neck experiences from bad posture. Imagine you are going bowling. You pick up a 10-pound bowling ball and hold it close to your body as you carry it to your lane. This requires relatively little effort as the weight is near your center of gravity. Now imagine having to hold that same 10 pounds with your arms stretched straight forward from your body. Imagine how much heavier that 10-pound bowling ball would feel? How long could you hold that position before you started to get fatigued or feel pain? This is in essence what we are asking our neck to do when we hold it forward for an extended period of time.

So how can we decrease the effects of bad posture? As a physical therapist, I tell my patients to use good posture, but what is that and how do we do it? Here are three tips I give my patients:

  1. Keep it all lined up. Good posture is about maintaining good alignment from the head to toe if you are standing. Your hips should be centered above your ankle bones, your shoulders should be centered above your hips and the opening of your ear should be centered above your shoulders. If you have good posture, you could literally draw a straight line from your ear to your ankle. When you are sitting, obviously that line stops at your hips but the upright posture for your back, shoulders and head still remain.
  1. Think about it. Think about how you position your body. Are you looking down at your phone to text or check email? Are you slouching on the couch or have your body turned one way or the other? One simple solution is to hold your phone up a little higher. Remember the more your head is flexed forward the heavier it feels. If your phone is elevated, you have reduced the strain on your neck. There are even apps you can download on your phone that tell you if you are holding your phone at the right angle. Sometimes just paying attention to how you hold your body can help prevent injury and pain.
  1. Give yourself a break. Holding one position for any length of time is like running a marathon for your postural muscles. Change position, take lots of breaks and move your head and shoulders. You should not stay in one position longer than about 20 minutes if you are on a computer, and some sites recommend taking a break for your eyes every 15 minutes from electronic devices or computer screens. Having said that, imagine how long you can hold that bowling ball away from your body… If you are texting or emailing on your phone, I recommend changing position every five minutes, even for just a few seconds.

If your pain persists, see your physician and remember physical therapists are trained to evaluate your posture as well as how well your muscles and joints are functioning. We can help you get rid of that pain in the neck!

Michelle McCormick

By Michelle McCormick

Physical Therapist at Avera Therapy - Watertown

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