Nothing undermines good posture like working at a computer all day. It’s a common problem in today’s “online” world: People of all ages — including those who don’t have full-time desk jobs — are spending a substantial amount of time hunched over computer and smartphone screens.
In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that chronic poor posture is the new norm for many people — and that muscle tension and persistent neck pain are common consequences.
At Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates in Humble and Baytown, Texas, Dr. Okezie N. Okezie and our team have seen a major uptick in the number of patients seeking help for chronic neck pain. Here, we explain how job-related poor posture leads to neck pain, and what you can do about it.
The way your body is positioned when you’re standing or sitting is called static posture. Your core muscles work closely with your spine and its supporting tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) to help you maintain good posture.
Your spine has three gentle curves, and good posture maintains these curves without increasing (flexion) or decreasing (extension) them. This is called having a “neutral spine.” When it comes to the cervical spine in your neck, neutral posture means that your:
Maintaining a neutral cervical spine when you’re sitting (or standing) at your desk keeps the weight of your head well balanced, causing minimal strain to the structures in your neck.
For the average person who spends long hours working on a computer or hunched over a smartphone, good posture can be increasingly difficult to maintain.
Why? Looking at screens for lengthy periods prompts an automatic, unintentional postural change called forward head posture. While this small shift in head position may seem minor, it can have major negative effects on your neck.
Specifically, hours of screen time can make you angle your chin and neck forward, positioning the center of your head, or ear line, in front of your shoulders rather than directly above them. This non-neutral head position can cause:
When your head is in a neutral position, your cervical spine bears its exact weight (10-12 pounds). But when you hold your head forward just one inch out of neutral positioning, the gravitational force on your head nearly doubles — along with the amount of weight on your cervical spine.
Given that just one inch of forward head posture effectively doubles the weight load on your neck, it’s easy to see how poor job-related posture can quickly strain your neck.
Forward head posture strains your neck and shoulder muscles, making them work hard to counteract the strong pull of a forward-leaning head. Over time, these overloaded muscles become increasingly vulnerable to painful strains, spasms, and trigger points.
When your head is forward and your cervical spine is out of neutral alignment, it’s nearly impossible for the rest of your spine to stay neutral. As a result, it becomes more comfortable to hunch your shoulders or round your upper back, too.
This “postural misalignment chain” increases muscle tension and creates imbalances through your neck and back, setting the stage for chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain.
Forward head posture can also create a hyperflexion-hyperextension dynamic within your cervical spine that fosters abnormal joint wear and spinal misalignments, two conditions that increase the likelihood of degenerative changes, herniated discs, and pinched nerve pain.
At Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates, we take a comprehensive approach to chronic neck pain that aims to provide instant relief — and works to reverse the underlying postural problems that contribute to the problem.
Depending on the nature and severity of your neck pain, your treatment plan may include:
Your plan also includes postural rehabilitation, which identifies how your posture misses the mark, teaches you what good posture looks and feels like, and gives you the tools you need to actively practice good posture when sitting and standing.
Have you had it with chronic neck pain? We can help. Call your nearest Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates office in Humble or Baytown, Texas today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Okezie anytime.