Moving Well, Part 5: A Pain in the Neck

Orthopedic Injuries, Pain

“Sit up straight.” “Stop slumping.” “Sitting is the new smoking.” We’ve all heard the cautions against poor posture and sitting too much.  It seems pretty cut and dry: bad posture and prolonged sitting must be the cause of increasing neck pain and headache prevalence in this country. However, the research does not support this. Sitting and even slumped sitting are natural movements for our body, and many people who spend the full day slumped over a computer do not have pain. It isn’t as straight forward as it seems.

Pain is very complex, and researchers are only just scratching the surface of our understanding of pain. We do know that pain is a controlled by the brain in reaction to many things, including movement or lack thereof. So it’s not the act of sitting slumped that causes pain, but lack of movement. This is a twofold problem. First, many of us sit for hours over the computer without getting up at all.  Secondly, with the addition of smart phones, our heads move forward thousands of times a day and rarely move back or up. This imbalance between the two movements can contribute to the pain.  It is almost impossible to “fix” posture, but adding opposing movements throughout the day may be effective at combating neck and head pain.

Since we are usually in a forward head position, the best exercise to move us in the opposite direction is a chin tuck. This is done by pulling your chin straight back as if you are giving yourself a double chin. It is more effective if the exercise is done to end range of available motion. Use the hand on the forehead to give some gentle over pressure and move into the end range of motion and then return to the starting position. This will only work if it is done often throughout the day to balance out the forward head posture we adopt most of the day. I usually recommend doing this ten times an hour or as often as possible to aid decreasing and/or preventing neck pain and headaches. It is also a good idea to not sit for more than twenty minutes at a time without standing. Just getting up and sitting right back down can help!