By Rachel Amarosa
Neck and shoulder pain is one of the most common complaints from patients in the outpatient physical therapy and chiropractic clinic.
The causes of pain can be extensive especially if there was acute trauma that caused an injury; however, most times the cause of the pain can be very simple – poor posture.
Poor posture that causes neck and shoulder pain or stiffness is gradual. It will typically start as stiffness with some activities throughout the day, then will develop into pain and discomfort while doing most activities. Finally, it will cause pain that will interrupt sleep at night.
Poor posture for your upper body involves one or more of the following: excessive forward head posture, increased thoracic kyphosis (your mid-back is excessively bent over like a hunchback) and/or rounded shoulders.
This poor alignment affects certain muscles differently. The muscles in the front of your chest, shoulders and neck will shorten, which pulls on the structures they are attached to causing discomfort and stiffness.
Conversely, the muscles in the back of your neck, shoulders and mid-back become lengthened. Over time, this lengthening causes the muscles to fatigue faster and fail in correctly stabilizing your joints causing pain, soreness and dysfunction.
These muscle imbalances aren’t the only cause for concern. If not addressed properly and quickly, more serious musculoskeletal disorders and conditions can develop such as tendonitis, impingement or nerve pain. These conditions undoubtedly take more time to heal. Sometimes it can take several more weeks for pain to subside, reverse the damage that poor posture habits have caused and return to pain-free activities.
On the bright side, management and treatment can be as simple as addressing your posture throughout the day. You can start by fixing your standing and sitting posture. Sit, stand and walk with your shoulders back and your head and chin tucked so your ears are over your shoulders. Focus on pulling your belly button back into your spine and engaging your core while walking and sitting to help keep you upright and in proper alignment.
Modifications to your daily tasks will also be beneficial. If you sit at a desk for extended periods of time, assessing your workstation is essential. Rearrange your workstation so that everything is close to you and you don’t need to reach far for your phone, keyboard or mouse.
Chair support, height and position are important as well. You want a chair to provide proper support for your lower back or lumbar spine. If the chair lacks that support, you can use a lumbar pillow and pad or try a small towel roll. Chair height should be adjusted so that your feet are flat and thighs are parallel to the floor. (Your knees will be at a 90-degree angle in this position.) Also, have your chair at the right distance as well. If it’s too far from your desk it will cause you to reach too far and strain your muscles.
Check where your computer screen is located. Positioning your screen to be directly in front of you is critical. Looking straight ahead so you aren’t keeping your neck and head turned to one side or looking up for long periods of time will be enormously helpful.
These sitting position adjustments can be helpful with driving as well. Adjust your steering wheel and seat so that you aren’t reaching for the wheel and you can maintain shoulders and the head and chin tucked in throughout your drive.
Trying these simple good posture habits is the first step. However, sometimes additional steps are needed in addition to rearranging your workstation and correcting your posture. Visiting a physical therapist or chiropractor may be necessary. They would evaluate and assess your posture and pain and would be able to prescribe corrective exercises and ergonomic adjustments that are needed for proper restoration of function and a quick reduction of pain.
Rachel Amarosa is a certified athletic trainer for ProClinix Sports Physical Therapy & Chiropractic. She is also the marketing and patient relations director for ProClinix’s three locations in Armonk, Pleasantville and Ardsley. She can be reached out 914-202-0700 or at email@example.com.