A recent study highlighted in the NYtimes showed researchers measuring the amount of force applied to your spine, upper back, and neck when you’re texting (or angling your head down).
Check it out:
- Normal: The normal ‘weight’ of the skull is around 10-12 pounds. Remember, this is like holding a weight above your head, directly overhead. Pretty easy.
- 15* forward: The forces on your neck and spine are already double: the head now is delivering ~27 pounds of force to your neck and upper spine.
- 30* forward: 40 pounds
- 45* forward: 49 pounds
- 60* forward: 60 pounds. At this point you’re applying six times the natural force (weight) to your neck and upper back. Like I said, now your neck is holding up a bowling ball out at an angle. Try holding up a 10 pound weight directly above your head. Easy. Now stick it out at 45-60 degrees. Your shoulders are on fire. That’s what’s going on with the neck here
The neck is essentially holding a bowling ball straight up, and the more your neck is angled, the more it’s trying to utilize your neck muscles to fight gravity and hold the bowling ball out at a 45 degree angle.
Now, realistically, you aren’t sitting in front of your phone texting ten hours a day. I sure am not.
But realistically, you are sitting in front of a computer screen ten hours a day. And that’s pretty substantial.
So let’s talk about what you should be doing here to counteract that quickly and permanently.
Is it really just about improving your posture?
Consider these emails and comments I’ve gotten on my articles on back and neck pain:
Does “stretching it out” and just “sitting up straight” ever really produce permanent relief by itself?
Personally, it didn’t for me when I was in the darkest days of my back pain. When I spent $1,000+ that I didn’t have in order to see specialists that provided very little relief.
I did the whole “stretch it out, sit up straight, do some yoga, take some painkillers” thing. And still I had such bad burning in my back, that when I woke up I looked like death from not sleeping and I wanted to to stab anyone that talked to me. Pain tends to do that to you.
What many of us don’t realize is that our muscles affect our bones and our posture to a certain extent. We’ve all seen someone who lifts weights for years and doesn’t do it in a balanced way – only working out their chest and not their back for example. They get this typical caveman posture because they aren’t strengthening muscles in the back which rotate the arms and chest outwards (backwards).
Here’s a classic example. Let’s say you’re stuck looking down at your screen all day like this:
Posturally, you can say “oh, I know my neck shouldn’t be looking down like this all day. I know it’s bad for me.”
And that’s great.
But I’m sure you’ve looked up again, and felt the tension and stiffness in your neck, and had a difficult time making it go away by just looking up, right?
When we use the body improperly for an extended period of time, that’s when repetitive stress injuries can occur.
The class one is the neck.
We stick our necks out, and poke them down.
Gravity is working against the neck, and the muscles are fighting back.
Over time (days, months, years at your desk), you can accumulate hot spots / trigger points / areas of tension. And sometimes these can be extremely difficult to try and get rid of, and just merely correcting the neck doesn’t work.
Have you ever felt numbness in the back of your skull, or the feeling that you’re wearing a ‘crown’ of tension? Almost like you’re wearing a band around your temples and head, a hat, except you aren’t?
This is classic referral pain from hot spots in the upper back and neck.
The quick fix here is to address the hot spot first, and only then address the postural issue. I mean, you can address the posture first but it rarely will be a quick fix for your pain.
So let’s talk about the three part system for sustainable, lasting pain relief.
Here’s The Fix (Not Just Posture)
The solution is that you have to focus on a three part approach to pain relief. Anything less and I’ve found that people may get short term results, but they don’t last beyond 24 hours. That’s why in my Back Pain Freedom program I emphasize a 3-part approach.
- Releasing hotspots
- Daily retraining
Clearly, for most of us ‘sitting up straight’ or buying a new mattress flat out doesn’t work – at least not by itself.
The way to permanent relief is by focusing on these three phases.
In the following three steps I’m going to introduce you to what to do, and then bring you to each individual guide with videos/pictures, etc. on how to do it, as to not make this article too long.
Phase 1. Releasing hotspots.
The first phase you need to focus on is soft tissue work, e.g. a modified form of massage.
Like the example of the person staring down at a screen all day, hotspots tend to form in the upper neck, several points along the trapezius, and going into the mid/upper back as well as the shoulder blades.
Quickly adjusting your posture doesn’t immediately produce 100% relief because for most of us, these spots have been building up for years with repetitive patterns (like me sitting on this computer 10 hours a day).
Here’s a link to one of my other guides that’ll walk you through some hotspots and how to release them.
For lower back pain (click the image below or click here):
Upper back and neck pain (click the image below or click here):
For phase one, this usually involves things like self massage, foam rolling, etc.
Here’s my own guide on foam rolling for pain relief (remember: this is just phase 1):
After you’ve gone through phase one, and only once you’ve gone through it, combine it with Phase 2.
Phase 2. Postural changes
Only after you’ve gone through the soft tissue work of working out these hotspots, then should you move onto postural stuff. Again, the reason is because you likely won’t get 100% relief from just changing your posture.
Ever gone running and repeatedly injured the same place, over and over? Maybe it’s an ankle, or a knee, or a hamstring. Whatever the case, you DO need to work on your bio-mechanics and your running form, but in the short run, doing certain stretches and soft tissue work to release some of the tight spots will work wonders.
Once you’ve gone through the soft tissue work in the above guides, refer to the postural sections in the above articles.
Phase 3. Daily re-training on bio-mechanics.
I can give you all the proper postural and pain relief advice in the world, but if you’re having knee pain because you squat 300 pounds improperly, then nothing will fix that.
You can get all the advice from an expert, but if you’re picking up a water cooler 500 times a day for your job, and you’re doing it with a hunched back, there is no advice on the planet that will help you.
Here are some core principles:
- When you bend down to get anything, pretend you’re following my technique for sitting on the chair. Act like you’re sitting on the toilet, with a slightly arched back (make sure it’s not rounded/hunched over).
- The same rules apply for lifting anything off the ground.
- When lifting anything over your head, clench your core (this ensures the lower back doesn’t over arch too much)
- When doing any full body movements exercising (lifting anything, pushing anything, pulling yourself up, doing pushups, etc.), activate your core by slightly clenching your stomach. That will make sure the core/lower back are aligned. The most important thing here is that the back always keeps a slight arch then you’re loading any kind of weight. Hunching over your back (in a C shape) is what causes damage, especially when moving, pushing or pulling weight.
So at the end of the day, it’s critical for us to realize that we have to fundamentally change the way we walk, run, exercise, lift things, put things down, etc.
Just like any health or weight loss habits you’re trying to cultivate, if you don’t apply it in daily life, nothing changes. No diet or super ninja strategy will ever help in the long run until the day to day changes.
What’s the most frustrating part for you? Share it below
I cover all three of these phases in-depth in my Back Pain Freedom program. It’s not open right now, but if you’d like to join the wait list, just click here.
What about you?
What has been the most frustrating part about not being able to get permanent relief?
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