Poor Posture and Neck Pain – Is there a Connection?
Absolutely, there’s a connection! It’s a common misconception that neck pain has to be caused by either sleeping in a position not even suited for a contortionist …or trauma, such as whiplash. Actually, neck pain due to trauma is not nearly as common as it being the result of poor posture.
If you have consistent neck pain, it’s probably not due to an injury. You are most likely feeling the results of bad posture…even if you don’t realize you have it.
Environment and lifestyle often contributes to bad posture, such as computer work or stress and tension. And, if your head and spine are not appropriately aligned, you increase the risk for future injury or degenerative issues. So, it’s important to check your environment…and your posture to help reduce neck pain now, and in the future.
Head and Shoulder Positioning in Posture
If your head slants forward, to the point of it being in front of the shoulders, it’s referred to as forward head posture. It’s probably one of the more common contributors in bad posture and neck pain, leading to potential problems for the neck and back.
When your head is in the forward head posture position, it causes the head to place unnecessary stress on the vertebrae found in the lower neck. This contributes to degenerative disc disease, if this positioning is consistent.
This also encourages the muscles found in your upper back to repeatedly be overburdened as they try to offset the pull on the vertebrae. In turn, you will probably also start experiencing pain and issues in the upper back, as the shoulders start to round.
If your physical therapist encourages you to work on this, make sure you do, as long term abuse of this position can lead to long term problems with the neck and back.
Consequences to the Lower Cervical Vertebrae
The lower cervical vertebrae (C5 and C6 in the lower neck) are left vulnerable for those who consistently place their head in front of their shoulders. The C5 and C6 could slip forward as the head continues to pull forward, creating an unnatural position for the vertebrae.
Most people have experienced temporary neck pain when they either sleep wrong, or look down more in a day than they normally do. But, when a person holds their head forward in this position for long periods of time, long-term issues are a real concern.
Poor Posture and Long-Term Negative Impact
If there is prolonged forward head posturing, it can lead to irritation of the small facet joints located in the neck. It can also wreak havoc on the soft tissue and ligaments as well. The irritation can cause neck pain that, in time, might radiate through to the shoulder blades and upper back. It can also set off a few other conditions, such as:
- Painful Muscular Trigger Points – tenderness that can be very painful with the slightest touch
- Reduced Range of Motion – neck and shoulder stiffness, limiting the ability to move
- Disc Degeneration – cervical degeneration can enhance the risk of osteoarthritis
- Cervical Herniated Disc – Painful condition that might require physical therapy or surgery
If you find that you are experiencing some of the above issues, talk to your physician or physical therapist to see if there are stretches and exercises to help with your posture.
There are also things you can do on the job, if you find that your posture is bad at the office.
Ergonomics in the Workplace to Reduce Neck Pain
Work can be a literal pain in the neck, if you are not set up in a way to maintain proper posture, whether you are sitting or standing.
Sitting at a desk and looking down at a computer all day is a brutal enemy to the neck and just might cause some of the long-term effects mentioned above. However, there are ergonomic solutions that can help. Take a look:
- Raise your computer screen so that your eyes look at the middle or top of the screen, without bending the head
- Desk or seat height should be so that your forearms are parallel to the floor when working and elbows are at your side
- Keep your feet flat on the floor or flat on a stack of books, all while keeping your thighs parallel to the floor
For those who stand all day, it’s best to limit the amount of time the body is rotated by maintaining as much symmetry as possible. This will help to reduce the amount of time the neck is forced to be in an unnatural position.
Just as with the desk job, the work environment might need some adjustments so that the body doesn’t have to contort too much when performing tasks.
If your workplace will not… or cannot accommodate a proper ergonomic environment, then it’s up to you to make sure you are doing what you can to counter the abuse your body will take. Talk to a physician or physical therapist to find out what exercises and stretches you can do to help prevent long term therapy needs.