Dr Tina Jain, Physiotherapist, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai
The ubiquity of mobile devices and the advancement of technology has been one of the greatest blessings to mankind in recent times. They have had a tremendously positive effect on easing out our daily routines. Unfortunately, we may not be able to say the same about their effect on our necks, backs and spine.
Thanks to rigorous work schedules, most of us are forced to sit for hours in front of our computers and laptops. At times, when it’s not work that tethers us to our seats, it is bending over our cell phones or laptops for leisure. The end result is feeling creaky, achy and stiff by the end of a workday. Working at desks is known to be a common cause of back and neck pain, often because we end up accommodating to our workstation rather than the other way around. Most people strain to see a computer monitor that is too far away, too low, too high, too small or too dim. All of this proves to be detrimental to good posture.
Maintaining a proper posture is one of the most important factors in preventing neck pain while working at the computer or pondering over any other mobile device. While most of us are forced to sit for long hours at work, it can cause significant postural strain in the neck, back, and shoulders.
One of the most common issues that today’s youth face is the phenomenon of Forward Head Posture. This is a posture problem which occurs when the neck slants forward and the head is placed in front of the shoulders rather than directly above the shoulders. This is often caused because of certain daily activities such as prolonged computer or cellphone use which may increase bending forward of the neck flexion. Usually, the lower part of the neck, called the cervical spine, is the area that flexes most. The upper cervical spine bends backward as you lift your head to be able to see.
Other than mobile device use, there are some other factors too that cause Forward Head Posture. Sometimes, sleeping with the head elevated too high on pillows could be the reason. Additionally, weakness of the neck muscles, prolonged driving, carrying heavy school bags daily, previous neck sprains or strains or even secondary causes like back pain are reasons that could lead to Forward Head Posture.
Forward neck posture can lead to several issues. It increases stress on the cervical spine. For every inch that the head is held forward in poor posture, an additional 5kg weight is felt on the cervical spine. So, if the average head weighs between 5-6kg, just 1 or 2inches of forward head posture can double/triple the load on the Cervical Spine.
Besides, some muscles in the neck and upper back must continually overwork to counterbalance the forward head. As a result, muscles become more prone for sprains and spasms. Forward head posture can lead to persistent and abnormal pressure in the muscles, tissues and on nerves of both the neck and shoulders, as there is high load being placed on the back and shoulder muscles. In an effort to compensate the forward head posture, it is often accompanied by forward shoulders and rounded Upper back (Hunched Upper back).
Here are a few tips and tricks that can help ease out stiff necks, shoulders and back.
- Work out a better posture
The number one aspect that you need to work on is improving your postures. Escaping long hours may not be possible considering the changing competitive landscape. So if it’s a must to sit to work, it is better to try and limit your time to periods of 20-30 minutes, then take breaks to move around or stretch. When sitting, make sure that you have a chair that can properly support your body. Your low back should be supported to prevent slouching. Also, you may want to get a workstation and computer that is neither too low nor too high for your level.
However, it is not enough to just upgrade your workstation. A 2017 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy compared workstation modification to exercise for reducing office related neck, shoulders and back pain. It was found that exercise proved better for pain relief than did ergonomics. So, while those who sit for long in front of computers can do ergonomic evaluations and modifications if necessary, it is also impetrative to do exercise.
- Try these easy exercises to fix Forward Head Posture
- First, tuck your chin in using two fingers of one hand.
- Place your other hand on the back of your head and apply a gentle force down as you pull your head towards your chest
- When you fell a stretch at the back of your neck, hold the position for 20-30 sec
Exercise 2 Chin tucks: 2-3 sets of 10 repetition
- Place 2 fingers at the bottom of your chin
- Gently tuck your chin in and retract your head backwards, hold the end position 3-5secs
Exercise 3 Shoulder Blade Squeeze
Sit on a chair, Maintain Chin Tuck, raise your chest up, allowing your spine to be in neutral position. Rest both of your arms down by your sides. Now bring your arms back
While these exercises can be tried at home, if you are someone who is prone to neck pain or have injured your neck, shoulders or back, it is important to work with your doctor or physical therapist on exercise selection and form.