Ask Your Physical Therapist: Posture Behind Some Neck Pain

Statistics indicate neck pain is the third most common reason (10-21 percent per year) that people visit their doctor. There are many reasons why one’s neck may hurt, but for this article I will focus on posture.

What is it about posture that causes a person’s neck pain? Long-term stress on the joints and soft tissues is an extremely common event, and one I treat quite frequently.

Our bodies have an amazing capacity to function within a wide range of postures/positions, however, once one moves outside that limit, then pain can be generated. Most individuals report to me they did nothing to injure themselves, but that is how postural stress syndromes develop. Long periods of low-level stress ultimately build up until an individual begins to hurt.

As a Western, technology-based society, we spend way too much time sitting, allowing the shoulders to round and head to poke forward. Some of the worst offending activities involve: typing on the computer, playing on cellphones or video games, sitting in class or studying, and driving. This is an issue that affects individuals from 16 to 86 years of age. It does not discriminate.

By participating in these activities for several hours per day, people are chronically putting their neck and upper back in positions that allow increased stretch to certain muscles/joints while tightening others. The good news is that many of these changes are reversible if one takes the initiative to work on it.

The process of addressing this problem involves conscious thought, it just does not happen or get better without working on it. For those who work on computers for large portions of the day, check your set-up. The monitor should be straight ahead and keyboard in a position that allows arms to be relaxed.

Get up and change positions regularly — at least once an hour. Sitting for hours on end is surprisingly harmful to the body in general. The most common exercise I prescribe for this is sitting tall, pulling shoulders back and then pulling the chin back.

My final suggestion is to visit your physical therapist who can troubleshoot your specific issue and tailor a program individualized to you because all patients with postural related problems are not the same.

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