Did you know that 95% of us will experience low back pain at one time or another in our lifetime? Perhaps you can already attest to that (I know I can).
But how about neck pain?
This seems to be something that most of us have had, but it’s difficult to find good numbers on this. I can tell you that as a trainer, just about everyone I have worked with has had neck pain at some time. To me, that 95% statistic for low back pain could be equally relevant for necks. Regardless of what the numbers are, the important thing is to find out what can you do if you have it, or figure out how to prevent it in the first place.
To help with answering those questions, it is relevant to check out some other statistical findings. Before you fall asleep, let me quickly get to the point. Neck pain is being found to be more and more frequent worldwide, and is generally higher in women, higher-income countries, urban areas, and (ta da) OFFICE WORKERS!
So there! The chains that tie us to our computers are getting to us via neck pain! Here’s a typical scenario: Head is forward, shoulders are rounded, and back of the neck hurts all the way down to the top of the shoulders. If this is the type of pain you experience, I have four things you can do.
1. Shoulder Creep. Watch out for “shoulder creep.” That is, check your shoulders as often as you can. Do you find them creeping up toward your ears? If so, let them drop! Check this out as you work, or if you are exercising.
2. Chin Tuck. Stand with your back against a wall with your feet 3-4 inches away from it, shoulder width apart. Press your low back toward the wall by activating your abdominal muscles. This is an important part of retraining neck posture because it helps to lift your chest so that your spine can line up properly. Now, press your chin straight back toward the wall as best you can. If you have had a forward head posture for a long time, you may have difficulty with this.
Do the best you can without forcing it. It is important to push your chin straight back. Do not get the back of your head to touch the wall by tilting your head backwards. This will not help you. You will show improvements with the chin tuck with gentle persistence. Do this 10 times in a row. You can do this once or twice a day to help you develop less stressful neck posture.
3. The Back Burn. Staying in that same position, place your elbows, forearms, backs of hands and fingers on the wall with wrists about shoulder height. Keeping the head, arms, and hands all touching the wall as much as possible, slowly slide your hands up the wall, and then slowly bring them back down. Doing a set of 10 of these will help you reactivate the muscles that have not been able to work with your head forward and shoulders rounded. Notice that this exercise also helps with “shoulder creep”.
4. Plan B. Here’s a Plan B that can also help. While sitting at your desk, do your best to sit up straight, chest lifted, abdominal muscles engaged. Then do #1, #2 and #3 right there, imagining the wall behind you. This can help you remember to keep this posture while you are working.
A huge study on the determinants of neck pain in office workers showed that there is little evidence that workplace modifications for correction of posture have been effective for reducing neck pain.
I think this means that we have ingeniously figured out how to keep our heads forward and our shoulders rounded in spite of great chairs, keyboard placement, and eye level screens. Applying a bit of initiative to the issue by using the above exercises may help keep you from becoming a statistic.
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