Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and tendency to spend time in front of a computer screen, TV screen, or looking down at a smartphone or tablet PC is wreaking havoc with our spinal health. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in the UK, a million working days were lost last year alone due to back pain and/or neck pain and this sets to get even worse unless we sit up and pay attention.
Preventing neck pain could be as simple as reassessing how we use our body throughout the day, and how we sleep at night. One of the most common causes of neck pain is something called anterior head carriage: where the head is tilted too far forward and extra pressure is put on the structures of the cervical spine. In this position the cervical spinal muscles that run down the back of the neck and shoulders are in a constant state of contraction in order to support the head. This is what leads to sore neck muscles, tight shoulders, neck pain and fatigue.
Screen-Time and Neck Pain
The main cause of this abnormal and damaging posture is sitting staring at a computer screen. We tend to sit in such a way that the natural curve of the lower back is flattened, leading to the shoulders dropping and the head moving forward. This may be compounded by unaddressed vision issues causing us to peer closely at the screen.
To correct this we should consider sitting as an activity in itself, not a passive state of being. If you imagine a string attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards then this can help keep your pelvis angled forward, the lumbar curve maintained, the shoulders back and the head nicely in alignment to keep the natural curve of the cervical spine. This helps to spread the load on the spine and reduce the likelihood of muscle strain, neck pain, back pain and spinal degeneration.
Sitting as an Activity
Viewing sitting as an active thing can also help us to maintain good muscular health which makes us more resilient to acute trauma. Of course, sitting should not be considered exercise as such and we need to take regular breaks from sitting in order to reset the body and use other muscles. Even a one or two minute walk through the office every half hour can help us to avoid settling into an unhelpful posture. Any damage that is being done to the spine is limited by frequent reassessment of how we’re using the body.
Regular breaks from sitting also give us an opportunity to get a drink of water, stay hydrated, and to breathe freely. We often unconsciously hold our breath when talking on the phone, texting, or looking at something on screen and so getting up and being mindful of how the body is moving can help us to breathe normally and re-oxygenate the muscles. Drinking water also helps to keep the body hydrated and reduce the risk of dry and stressed joint tissue tearing under pressure.
In addition, sitting up and taking notice of posture can help you to acknowledge when your clothing choices, desk layout, or computer set up is affecting how you use your body. Tight clothing or restrictive clothing can prevent us moving naturally, while having files on a low shelf or a keyboard or screen that is too far away from us can lead us to tilt forwards and strain the spine.
In short, to help prevent neck pain and back pain it is important to:
- Exercise regularly
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid wearing tight or restrictive clothing that disrupts normal posture
- Take regular breaks from staring at the screen
- Be mindful of your body and how you are using it every day.
Some people make sure that they remain aware of their posture while at work or even when watching TV by using products such as the Lumoback Posture Sensor which monitors your posture and gently vibrates when it senses that you’re slouching. There’s also an accompany app. for your smartphone that offers postural advice and encouragement, helping you learn to sit up straight even when not using the Lumoback.