You’ve probably seen the term “Text neck” on the news by now and wondered what all the fuss was about. I’d love to be able to tell you that it’s all hype and it doesn’t matter, but in reality, it does. Losing the curve of your neck is one of the quickest ways to neck and upper back pain. But why?
You probably don’t think about it much (and you shouldn’t, I should), but your spine is continuously working against gravity to keep you upright. When your spine is in the correct position, it will be straight as you face toward a mirror looking straight ahead, but when you turn to the side, it’s a different story. Your spine has four distinct curves when you look at it from the side. These curves are actually designed to INCREASE the stability by allowing force to be transmitted outside the spine, thus decreasing the risk of disc injury. Many Doctors of Chiropractic would argue that the most important of these curves is the one in your neck, mostly because it is the one that has the toughest job against gravity.
In the “ideal” position, your neck should have about 43 degrees of curvature. This position of your spine allows the spinal cord to travel through the vertebrae with the least resistance and also positions your head directly above your shoulders. To recreate or exaggerate this position, pinch your shoulder blades together and pull your chin straight back as if you were making a “double chin.” If this position is painful for you, then I have some bad news, you’ve lost the curve in your neck.
When you lose the curvature in your neck, you begin to pinch and compress the spinal cord and nerves exiting from the neck. You also force some of your muscles to work extra hard against gravity. As your head moves forward, a force is required to pull you backward; otherwise, gravity would land you flat on your face. Your upper shoulder muscles create this backward pulling force. Your upper Trapezius muscles, along with other neck muscles, are forced to work all day against gravity pulling as much as 40 lbs. Imagine trying to carry a 40 lb. bowling ball around all day.
So how do we fix it?
If you’ve ever been to my office, there’s a good chance you’ve at least overhead me talking about neck curves. In our office, we use chiropractic adjustments, manual therapy of the neck muscles, and neck traction devices to help restore cervical curve. More importantly, we always give our patients homework so they can continue to work on their spines long after we get them pain-free.
One of the easiest exercises to help restore curvature in the neck is to use a regular 16.9 oz water bottle. The brand isn’t important, but it needs to be plastic, round, full, and not frozen. If you position the bottle underneath your neck while laying on your back on a carpeted surface or yoga mat, you will feel a small amount of pressure under your neck. That’s it. That’s the whole exercise. You don’t move at all; you just stay still. Simply lying there for 5 to 10 minutes every night just before bed uses a physiologic process in your body, which is called “creep.” Creep is the process where ligaments stretch, allowing the bones to change their position in relation to one another. What we’ve seen in our practice here in Downtown Orlando is that it only takes between 30 and 60 days of doing this small exercise to help get some curvature back into your spine. We often couple this with some ergonomic advice on how to position yourself while doing certain activities which changes depending upon a patient’s normal activities.
If you think you may have lost the curvature in your neck the time to act is now even if you don’t have pain. Recognizing a postural problem and treating it early can prevent neck pain, headaches, even arthritis. Schedule a visit today with our office for a free consultation to see if we can help you get the curve back in your spine.