Your Poor Posture Can Become A Pain In The Neck
Whether you lean over your elbows while working on a computer or crane over your mobile device, poor posture is a major cause of neck pain. Persistent movements or rotation of the neck to the same side can aggravate joints and soft tissues causing pain in neck. Poor posture is a risk factor for early wear and tear of the spine; degenerative arthritis; herniated or bulging discs, and nerve compression. About two thirds of people will experience pain at some time in their lives, and prevalence is highest in the middle-aged population. Neck pain causes severe disability in about 5% of affected people. As the head moves forward from neutral position, the centre of gravity changes, increasing the pressure on the muscles of the neck and over stretching the ligaments that hold the cervical vertebrae (bones at the back of the neck) together.
Oftentimes, neck pain may be accompanied by spasm which is an involuntary contraction of the muscles in the neck causing them to become stiff and painful. Some people may experience pain that radiates from the neck to either one or both shoulders and arms. In some cases, numbness, burning or tingling sensation, weakness in the arms, hands and fingers may be present. This is usually an indication of a “pinched nerve”. The phrase, “pinched nerve”, is used to refer to a nerve that is compressed or irritated where it branches away from the spinal cord. Compression or irritation of a nerve causes it to become inflamed and disrupts its function. The degree of nerve damage depends on how long the pressure on the nerve lasts for. If the nerve is pinched for only a short while, it could return to its normal function once the pressure if relieved. However, if the pressure persists, permanent nerve damage may occur.
Here are a few tips that will help prevent or reverse neck pain that results from poor posture.
1. Practice healthy workstation use: Workplace ergonomics is an important part of treatment and prevention of neck pain. Healthy workstation use involves the following:
- Maintain an erect sitting posture with your hips pushed back such that your upper and lower back are properly supported.
- Adjust the height of the chair so that your feet are flat on the floor and your thighs parallel to the floor.
- Position your keyboard close to your body and directly in front of you, making sure that the keys are centered with your body. The height of your keyboard should allow your elbows to be bent to about 90 degrees and kept close to your sides. Your shoulders should be relaxed, forearms approximately parallel to the floor, and your wrists and hands in kept a neutral position.
- Eyes should point directly at the top third of your screen.
2. Try a new pillow: Your pillow should keep support and maintain the natural curve of your
neck. You could use a memory foam pillow if you already have a history of neck pain.
3. Keep your head up while texting: Rather than crane over your mobile device, hold your
head up while using your device, while your eyes look down to the screen.
4. Take frequent breaks: Taking regular breaks throughout the day, from computers and
5. Use a hands-free device: If you spend a lot of time on the phone, avoid tilting your head to the side or cradling your phone in the crook of your neck. Be sure to use a headset or earphones.
6. Exercise and stretch your neck: Strengthening exercises can be done to keep the muscles of the neck strong. Stretching exercises such as gently squeezing the shoulder blades together and stretching the neck in the opposite direction can help take pressure off the shoulders, neck and back. Chin retraction is a good neck strengthening exercise.
In the event that neck pain is unrelieved by rest and postural adjustment, thorough evaluation and medical care should be sought.
By Dr. Oluchi Ihekuna
(Dr. Oluchi Ihekuna is a Licensed Physical Therapist, a graduate of the College of Medicine, University of Lagos. She has a keen interest in orthopedics and sports injuries. You can connect with Dr. Oluchi through email: oihekuna@CASSurgery.com, and social media @CASSurgery).