My neck is killing me!

 

You’ve been sitting at your desk for hours on end.  You get up and think ‘wow, is my neck sore!’  Wonder why?  Let’s take a look at the more common thing that happens over time from extended sitting.

Initially you may start pretty upright in your chair.  The day is fresh and you are ready to go.  As the day progresses you start to slump a bit. The lower back starts to round, causing your abdominal and chest areas to come forward and shorten.  Naturally your head follows and starts to move forward and closer to the computer screen.  Your eyes need to see what you are reading so you slightly tilt your head up.  All these moves are unconscious yet by the time you get out of your chair your entire body positioning has been compromised.  After months or years of this poor posture, the muscles become adapted to this new position.  head-forward-posture

So what?

To begin, a natural position for the head is to be directly above the shoulder joint.  When it is sitting in this position, it requires the least amount of energy for your head to rest comfortably.  However as that head starts to move forward of that ideal posture, your muscles have to take over in holding the head up against gravity.  It may not sound like a big deal but according to Dr. Renee Calliet for every inch your head is forward of normal alignment it adds 10 pounds of pressure on the neck muscles.  Over time as the head migrates further forward it can result in 30 pounds of additional pressure on the muscles of the neck!  Talk about a heavy load!  Our head already weighs between 10-12 pounds on average and now we are throwing an additional 30 pounds or more onto it!  No light matter.

So who’s doing the work?  It is the neck muscles that run directly down the spine that end up taking the load.  Not only do they have to work hard to hold up that head, they are spending a great deal of unnecessary energy to do so.  That energy results in an output of waste products including lactic acid.  At the same time the muscles are tight from contracting, which results in decrease of blood flow causing those waste products to accumulate and irritate the nerve endings.  Pain!  Over time the spine will start to adapt to the position and finally recruits the body to lay down some extra connective tissue to assist.  Have you seen people with that lump on the back of their neck at about shoulder height?  It is called a dowager’s hump and is primarily a result of this head forward posture.

This is only part of the story.  Remember I mentioned that you tend to tilt your head up to see the screen?  Our body naturally realigns itself to bring the eyes to the horizon by tilting that head slightly up at the base of the scull.  There are muscles there called the suboccipital muscles that hold your head in that position.  When they are shortened for a long period of time they can develop hyperirritable nodules that can actually cause headaches – like a tight band around your head at the eye level.  Ever had one of those headaches?

At the same time there are muscles in the front of the neck that end up short.  One in particular – the sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) can also cause
temporal headaches and jaw pain.  Another group called the scalene muscles can press on the nerves that innervate the arm, causing numbness and tingling in the arm and/or hand.  It is a bit more complicated than this but you get the picture.

I could go on about the resulting effects of the chest muscles but let’s wait for another time.  For now, we should look at things that you can do to get yourself out of this positioning.  Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure your chair has correct back support. You need to have a slight curve in your low back or you are going to round that low back which will result in rounding your chest, bringing your head forward and starting a barrage of other problems over time.
  • Make sure your keyboard is in a position in front of you where your arms can relax by your sides with the elbows bent to 90 degrees. If your keyboard is too high, you will elevate the shoulders.  If it is too low, you will be more likely to round that upper back, cave in your chest and end up with your head forward.
  • If you work on a laptop, you might want to consider a monitor so you can look directly ahead rather than down onto the laptop screen.
  • Get up and move regularly! The longer we sit, the more our posture starts to get compromised.  Even if it is just a quick walk around your desk, when you sit back down you will hopefully be sitting more erect.
  • Stretch out the neck muscles in the front, sides and back of the neck.
  • Do some door stretches to stretch out the pectoralis muscles.
  • Don’t know the ideal positioning for these stretches? Check out my eBook.  It will give you full details for stretching these muscles and much more.
  • Think of lifting up the top of your head towards the ceiling to elongate the neck and slightly tuck your chin in towards your neck.
  • Set a timer every hour or two to recheck your sitting position and realign yourself accordingly.

If you are not sure if you have your head forward of ideal alignment, ask someone to take a picture of you from the side.  You may be surprised!

As I am sure you know, sitting is only one of the culprits for that head ending up in a forward position.  Many other factors can play a role including imbalanced musculature in the upper body and hips.  If you have chronic neck pain or regular headaches you may want to check with a physical therapist or neuromuscular therapist to assist in assessing your situation.  You may also want to look into forms of exercise that will help you rebalance your body such as yoga, Pilates or Essentrics.  Not only will these help in getting the blood flowing but over time will assist you in getting your body properly aligned.

These are just a few tips to get your started.

I hope you found this helpful!

To your health,

Julie

Low Back Pain & Posture

As we discussed last time, the position of the pelvis has a lot to do with whether you are going to have low back pain or not.  The more your hips are rotated forward the more undue stress on the low back.  I hope you tried the Iliopsoas stretch to see if that started to relieve your back a bit.  Since the Iliopsoas muscle directly relates to the back and the muscles of the low back, as it starts to get full length back it will start to support a healthy position of the pelvis.  Did you try it?  How did you feel?

In addition to lengthening out the low back, it is important we stretch out the muscles in the front of the thigh that also cross the hip joint.  There are several stretches that can help you with this.  Here is a great one for addressing one of the main culprits:

To stretch the right Rectus Femoris:

  • Bend your right knee and grasp the front of your (right) ankle behind you with your right hand.
  • Bring your right heel to your right buttock while tucking your pelvis under; making sure your knee is always pointing towards the ground. Only go as far as you can and still keep your pelvis tucked.  (To give you the idea of how to ‘tuck’, tighten or squeeze your buttocks.  This will help to pull that pelvis into the correct position.)
  • While holding that position, push the front of your right hip forward, maintaining the ‘tucked pelvis’ position. You should feel the stretch in the front of your right thigh. Hold for a few seconds, relax, and then push the pelvis forward again.

Repeat on the second side.

Once you start to get some length into those short muscles it is then time to start to strengthen the ones on the opposite side of the joint, namely the abdominal and hamstring muscles.  We can talk more about those after you get some length back.

Meanwhile it is incredibly important to start thinking about the initial cause – namely sitting too much.  The new saying is ‘sitting is the new smoking’ since it is so hard on our bodies and health!

Let us begin by looking at what can be changed at your desk.  More and more companies are realizing the importance of getting off that chair and into a standing position.  Maybe you still have to be at your desk working but at least there are now options to do some of your work standing.  Check out these great new tools to turn your desk into a better work place at Varidesk.

Of course in addition to standing, moving is vital!  Rather than go grab a snack on your break, what about taking a walk around the building?  Perhaps start taking the stairs?  Park farther away from the door!  Take a walk after dinner rather than sitting in front of the TV!  Start finding creative ways to incorporate more and more movement into your daily life.  Your body will love you for it!

To your health,

Julie

Why Healthy Posture is So Important!

Regaining Good Posture

Posture.  Just mention the word and we tend to sit up straighter.  We think of our mothers harping on us as children, ‘sit up, don’t slouch!’  Yet do we really understand the consequences of both good posture and poor posture?  Can we imagine how the world would treat us if our posture were different?  No matter what your posture looks like, you are subconsciously being assessed.  Not to mention the role posture plays on the health of your joints, muscles, energy and more.

Let us look at this in greater depth.  The body is designed to work at an optimal level within gravity.  Joints, bones and ligaments are stacked in such a way to use the least amount of energy to hold us upright, to be able to stand or sit effortlessly.

Have you ever watched a young child sit?  Do you notice they don’t typically lean back in the chair but rather naturally sit quite straight with no effort?  What happens as we go through life that we start to rely on that chair back to hold us up?  Or that we stand in such a way as to put more pressure on our entire being?  These are some of the questions that started to arise as I became professionally involved in health. 

I have been a Certified Massage Therapist for 19 years and involved in health education in various ways for 30 plus years.  I came from an allopathic family.  Although I respect this school of thought, I found myself looking for an alternative way to address health.  With an analytical mind, I approached massage from a therapeutic place.  I started teaching treatment oriented massage shortly after graduating.   My practice brought many clients with various pain complaints.  I started really looking at the whole person in regards to their pain and often found that there were physical issues that often played into all or a portion of their complaints.  This brought me deeper into functional and structural assessment.  I was amazed at what I found.

To begin, posture plays a large role in how we approach life.  If we are hunched over or in pain from poor posture, it shows.  We give off signs of lack of self confidence, lack of intelligence, being overly tired, shyness, and more.  In addition, if our posture isn’t optimal, the amount of energy it takes to go through daily life increases exponentially.  No longer can we rely on the structural body to hold us up but rather our muscles now must be recruited to fight gravity, causing us to expend a great deal of energy.  Our entire being is compromised and energy that should be used to enjoy life is used just to hold us up, literally.

So what really happens?  To start, we have become a sedentary society.  No longer do most of us make our living by working in the fields, walking long distances, carrying packages, and so forth.  Instead we spend long periods of time sitting at a desk followed all too often by sitting in front of the computer or television when we get home.  Our bodies have become lazy.  Some muscles hardly have to work much at all in these situations.  Not only do they not have to engage but, allow them to be in a shortened position for a long enough period of time and they will stay shorten indefinitely.  Other muscles, at the same time, will be in an elongated position with some working overtime and others just becoming weaker.  All this results in our muscles being imbalanced and our joints compromised.  Along with these changes, we can experience pain, burning, numbness, weakness, tingling and more.  Depending on the situation, nerves can be compressed and lead to syndromes such as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel.   Low back pain, which is all too common, is often a result of poor posture and muscular imbalance.   Consequently the typical answer to these complaints, often result in surgery or pain medications.  Although this might be necessary under certain circumstances, they should never be the first choice of treatment.

Let’s start with looking at the head and neck.  Under normal circumstances, the head should sit right on top of the shoulders, with the correct position being the ear vertically in alignment with the shoulder joint.  Unfortunately all too often the head starts to jut forward.  Some of the common reasons for this are from slouching, trying to read something that is too small (so you lean forward to read it), lack of lumbar support while sitting or from improper positioning of a computer screen.  Our head typically weighs between 12 – 15 pounds; a lot of weight when you think about it and yet if sitting as it should, effortless for the muscles.  Take it out of that ideal position however and multiple problems can arise.  Dr. Rene Cailliet says that for every inch the head is forward of its’ ideal position adds 30 pounds of pressure onto the posterior neck muscles!  In addition, this position can result in:

  • Added pressure to the facet joints of the vertebrae which have a great deal of pain receptors, thus causing pain perception to increase
  • Constriction of blood flow to the muscles, resulting in unhealthy muscles that become prone to injury
  • Tight muscles that tend to refer pain to the head, resulting in headaches
  • The health of the temporomandibular joint causing TMJ dysfunction
  • Carpal tunnel symptoms

Learn stretches to keep your neck healthy!

Let us move on to the shoulders.  Typically the upper back has a slight convex curve.  When in this position, the vertebrae are stacked properly and the ligaments on either side of the vertebrae maintain this position.  As we start to slouch forward, the shoulders tend to round inward.  The muscles in the upper back are in an overstretched position and are now having to work hard to keep you from falling over forward.  The muscles in the front of the chest are becoming shorter with the potential to compress the nerves that innervate the arms.  One of the most common results is known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.  In addition, the following complaints can arise:

  • Burning between the shoulder blades
  • Chest pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome
  • Arm pain
  • Inability to take a full deep breath

Learn how to stretch and strengthen the shoulder muscles!

Next is one of the most common areas of complaint – the lower back.  A great deal of work has been missed in our country from low back pain and much of it can be avoided.  To begin, we will look at the role sitting plays.  When sitting for a long period of time, the muscles in the front of the hips, known as the hip flexors, are in a very short position.  They are used a great deal during walking so they do not tend to get weak, as the upper back muscles, but they do become very short.  This results in changing the normal position of the pelvis and creating what is known as an anterior pelvic tilt.  A small degree of anterior pelvic positioning is normal for women whereas men’s pelvis should stay neutral.  The issues arise when this position is exaggerated.  The pressure tends to be moved posterior to the discs, putting a great deal of pressure on the facet joints.  Remember as mentioned earlier, facet joints are loaded with pain receptors. 

In addition to sitting, the pelvis can end up in an anterior position due to being overweight, especially when we carry our fat in our bellies.  Belly fat puts a great deal of added weight in front of the body.  The only way to compensate for this added weight is to shift the positioning of the pelvis into that exaggerated anterior pelvic position, once again causing an increase in low back pain.

Along with general pain complaints from the low back, the following issues can arise:

  • Hip pain
  • Sciatica
  • Neurological complaints in the legs

Learn to keep your back healthy and strong!

So what do we do about all this?  It would be great if we could move away from sitting for extended periods of time but this is unlikely.  Rather we need to work within the parameters of our society.  The following is a list of ideas that can have a positive impact on our posture thus decreasing or eliminating the negative results of poor posture:

  • Movement or regular exercise:  By getting the blood to flow throughout the entire body, the muscles are receiving fresh nutrients and eliminating waste products.  These waste products in and of themselves can cause pain.  Also by moving, we are taking the muscles through a greater range of motion which can be a start to add length and strength to the muscles.
  • Stretching:  Working to lengthen the shortened muscles before strengthening the elongated weaker muscles will aid in realignment of the skeletal system.  It is important that specific stretches are given in order to lengthen the appropriate muscles.
  • Strengthening:  Once the shortened muscles are working towards being longer, it is then time to add in exercises to strengthen those muscles on the elongated side of the joint.  This is important to allow the body to regain a healthy posture where the joints and ligaments are able to do their job thus decreasing the amount of energy it takes to remain upright in gravity.
  • Ergonomics:  Assessing the position of the person to the height of the desk, the relationship to the chair, the positioning of the computer and so forth is a key.  Only focusing on ergonomics will not change the posture by itself but rather help to maintain the healthier posture with the aforementioned suggestions. 
  • Diet:  Although not directly involved in posture, it does play a large role in the health of the muscles.  Eliminating fast food, sugar, refined foods, soda, excess caffeine and more will enable the muscles to receive the nutrients need for maintaining health.  A healthy diet will also decrease constriction of blood flow thus allowing the entire body to process waste products at a healthier rate.

These are just some suggestions to creating a healthier posture.   Remember posture is much more than just looking good.  By having a body that is fully supported by the appropriate joints and ligaments, we will have more time and energy to enjoy all aspects of life and to live it to its’ fullest.  Isn’t it time to take a good look at your body?

I am excited to tell you that my eBook, Regaining Good Posture IS NOW AVAILABLE! 

Learn about:

  • Which muscles are potentially short or weak
  • How to assess your own body
  • Which stretches you need to do and how to do them
  • Strengthening Exercises to maintain a healthy posture

Included is a video presentation of each stretch and strengthening exercise. 

GO HERE to check it out!

After reading my article on posture, Dr Phil said this:

“Couldn’t agree more – great article examining in detail the importance of good posture. The advice is all spot on.”

He has a great software product called PostureMinder that you might like to check out!

Testimonial from D.M. Shepard, Torrance, California –

“As I mentioned, I was a personal trainer years ago and I still refer to my anatomy books to diagnose surprise aches and pains.  Suddenly a couple of weeks ago I developed major discomfort in my left groin and lower back so I limped around my business office for a full week before I searched online for treatment for the iliopsoas muscle.  Your video demonstration reminded me that sitting at a desk all day will reduce flexibility, shorten muscles and over time compromise posture.  The best part of your video was the stretch you demonstrated to lengthen the iliopsoas muscle area.  My discomfort was remarkably improved after only one day of stretching and I just about have regained full range of motion.

The trend these days is for people to live longer lives.  As a professional financial advisor, I have to prepare more ‘preventive’ investment strategies for my clients to stay ahead of potential financial problems later in life.

I see the same ‘preventive’ value for regaining and maintaining healthy posture and stretching flexibility, to assure functionality and better quality of life.  Certainly posture and stretches are cheaper than pills and surgery!

Thank you, Julie!”