By Kermit Pattison
You arrive at your job feeling fine. But by mid-afternoon, you’re feeling like someone has put a death grip on your neck and upper back, and no amount of head rolling, neck grasping or shoulder hunching seems to do much good. By the time you get to the gym, your energy is shot and your shoulders don’t feel up to hefting anything heavier than an aspirin bottle.
What gives? Poor posture combined with long hours at a keyboard and monitor can lead to a condition called “computer neck.” The symptoms include pain and tightness in the neck, shoulders and back. Computer neck can degrade into chronic pain — the kind that gets alternately better or worse with stress and overuse but that hardly ever seems to go away.
The neck is vulnerable because it plays many roles. Essentially, it’s the body’s utility pole, containing bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles and nerves. It also holds up your head, which weighs in at about 10 pounds — roughly as much as a bowling ball.
Muscles, acting like guide wires, keep the weight of the head centered and supported. Pain most often stems from poor body mechanics that upset this balance and put unnatural strain on the neck.
“As we develop poor posture, over time certain muscles become very tight and shortened and other muscles become lax and lengthened,” says Lynn Millar, PhD, professor of physical therapy at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. “That process further alters posture, putting the spinal column in a less-than-optimal position.”
Left unchecked, such dysfunction can cause muscle spasms, compression of nerves or a degeneration of the spinal column. Chronic cases bring a litany of problems: stiffness, headaches, work absenteeism, emotional stress and missed workouts.
Next: How to help?