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

Movement is Key!

We started talking about movement last post.  I’d like to continue on that subject because, as mentioned, we have become way too sedentary for our health.  Even an hour or two of daily exercise can’t make up for the 8-10+ hours of static sitting that has become way too commonplace for most people!

With movement comes the stimulation of the musculature and various cellular processes throughout the body that keep all our systems functioning at a higher level.  We get more fuel to all of our cells, our pancreas does a better job of balancing out blood sugar levels, our brain gets fed the glucose it needs to function properly, our digestive system continues to work and our muscles get the blood they need to both flush out waste products plus bring new oxygen and nutrients to function properly.  And, as we talked last time, to assist with keeping full length in the muscles that tend to stay short after prolonged sitting.

The above is to just name a few of the many actions our body does when we keep moving as opposed to too much sitting.  Did you know that even getting up and moving your own body weight around for a few minutes will start your system moving again?  This is why it is ideal to walk around at breaks, work part of the time at a standing desk, use the steps rather than taking the elevator whenever you can and much more.  You get the picture.

Start getting creative as to how you can move around more even if you do have to be at your desk all day.  What about standing and doing squats while you are on a conference call?  This will get those glutes and quads working to increase metabolism and burn a few extra calories.  Need to read that paper?  Walk around your desk while you are reading it or do little lunges from side to side.  Perhaps do a little Tai Chi movement or two while you are reading something on your computer.  Don’t know Tai Chi?  Here is a video with some basic moves for you from  Jake Mace  Note side benefit:  This might just calm you down a bit at the same time!

Drink more water!   You will get the double benefit of rehydrating your system, which is most likely dehydrated, and it will make you get up and go to the bathroom more.  🙂  For more information on hydration, here is an article I wrote a while back about drinking water.

Of course none of this is meant to take the place of regular vigorous exercise but to help counter the negative effects of sitting too much.

Another benefit is every time you get up and sit back down, you are likely to sit in your chair more upright and out of that slumped position that seems to come so naturally when sitting for long periods of time.  You thought I forgot about the posture piece, didn’t you?  Nope.  Next time we will look at what often happens to the head and neck from sitting too long.

Meanwhile I hope this inspires you to move more and more throughout the day!

To your health,

Julie