“Stand up straight.”
A phrase we may have heard as we stood in line outside of our elementary classrooms or as we prepared to enter a family gathering with our parents.
Yet, our spine itself isn’t actually straight. Perhaps the phrase should be: “Stand up curved.”
Mayfield Clinic describes the curves of the spine as forming an S-shape. Viewed from the side, the cervical and lumbar spines have a lordotic, or a slight inward curve, and the thoracic spine has a kyphotic, or gentle outward curve. (1)
When the curvature of the spine becomes too pronounced in one direction or the other, bad posture occurs. Remaining aware of our spine’s mechanics and of our activities (looking at a phone, computer, television, sitting improperly) can prevent a curvature from appearing. Here is more detailed information to consider.
CAUSES of Bad Posture and Neck Pain
As noted earlier, pain from poor posture can begin with the daily activities of staring at a screen. Repeatedly maintaining the neck in this manner eventually leads to changes in the entirety of the spine in addition to your head gradually pulling forward. This forward pull of weight puts undue stress on the vertebrae of the lower neck, contributing to degenerative disc disease and other degenerative neck problems. Similarly, this posture causes the muscles of the upper back to continually overwork to counterbalance the pull of gravity on the forward head. (3)
- Over time, pain occurs in the neck as a result of these muscles tightening:
- Scalene muscles (three pairs of muscles that help rotate the neck).
- Sub occipital muscles (four pairs of muscles used to rotate the head).
- Pectoralis minor muscles (a pair of thin triangular muscles at the upper part of the chest).
- Subscapularis muscles (a pair of large triangular muscles near each shoulder joint).
- Levator scapulae muscles (a pair of muscles located at the back and side of the neck).
If the alignment of the head and spine is not optimal, the neck can be predisposed to injury and/or the degenerative effects of wear and tear over time. (3) Additionally, pain and tightness/stiffness in the back and neck can be due to injury and other conditions such as arthritis, herniated disks and osteoporosis, but poor posture is a common contributor. Though rarely life-threatening, back and neck pain can be chronic and reduce your quality of life. (4)
Ways to Improve
At James Fowler Physical Therapy, our therapists can provide you with exercises to help ease neck pain and stiffness such as these.
- Close your eyes, take deep breaths through your nose and release through your mouth, as you slowly roll your shoulders forward for ten seconds.
- Repeat, but roll the shoulders in the opposite direction.
- By doing this exercise, you are releasing the tension in your upper back, shoulders and neck, thus reducing the risk of headaches.
Levator Scapulae Stretch with Arm Behind
- Place one hand on top of your head. Turn your head slightly to the front diagonal, keeping your elbow in line with your nose.
- Gently pull down on your head and maintain the position when you feel a stretching sensation. Keep your shoulder away from your ear.
- Place the opposite arm behind your back if you wish to increase the stretch.
Remember to pause, turn from the screen or from the monotony of daily life to do these exercises. Often in unhealthy patients without symptoms of an organic disease, poor body mechanics may be the reason. Beneficial effects may be obtained by improving or correcting bad habits. JFPT therapists can also increase a patient’s awareness and offer treatment to regain health and stand properly: stand curved.
- Mayfield Brain and Spine. (https://www.mayfieldclinic.com/PE-POSTURE.htm), 2008-2017.
- The Physio Company (https://goo.gl/wUQANJ). 2016
- Veritashealth (https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/neck-pain/how-poor-posture-causes-neck-pain).1999-2017.
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/posture-align-yourself-for-good-health/art-20269950). 1998-2017.
- James Fowler Physical Therapy (http://jamesfowlerpt.com/7-simple-stretches-to-avoid-neckback-pain-at-work) 2017.