Oh My Aching Neck

LoriZucker | January 13, 2017 |

Technology has changed the world. We can now talk to almost anyone, almost anywhere for free or for only a few pennies. We can see friends, family and colleagues through video chats. We can read headlines, order food and groceries, search for information and watch movies in the palm of our hands. And as with many great advances in the world, this technology advance comes at a cost – neck and shoulder pain! Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, a NY spine surgeon, built a model to evaluate the forces across the cervical spine, the neck, with the head in various positions. In an erect posture with the eyes facing forward toward the horizon, a typical human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. The head is supported by the structure of the spine and it doesn’t take much work for our muscles to support our head. With a slight 15 degree bend in the neck, the head is no longer easily stacked up on the vertebral column and it now weighs the equivalent of 27 pounds. As a standing person looks down to read their phone or tablet with the head at a 30 degree angle, the forces at the neck shoot up to 40 lbs. Should a person need to focus on their device or need to respond to incoming messages, it’s likely that the head would bend to approximately a 45 degree angle. In this posture, the head weighs a shocking 49 pounds! And in the most egregious alignment, with the head bent forward at a 60 degree angle, our heads weigh 60 pounds – a weight many people simply cannot manage for extended periods of time with the strength of the small neck muscles.

Hansraj reports that adults tend to spend between 2 and 4 hours a day with their heads tilted forward to read while high school students may spend as much as 13 hours a day in poor alignment.
What options do we have? First, bring awareness to your head and neck posture throughout your day. Begin to explore how you hold your head while engaging with a cell phone, tablet or book. Make some adjustments so that your neck isn’t bent forward for extended periods. Move your head and neck from side to side, forward and backward and rotate from side to side several times throughout the day to relieve some tension. Make sure to sit/stand with the head aligned over the spine for several minutes each hour. Do a few chin tucks throughout your day. Try to spend some time in a gentle back bend to relieve overused neck muscles. But most importantly, turn off your phone and get some regular total body exercise.
Hansraj, K. Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine cauased by posture and position of the head. Surgical Technology International XXV. 2015.