Part I: Electronic devices, are they changing our posture?

In the Computer Lab Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist and Reiki Master with more than 20 years of healthcare experience in Gettysburg, PA. The following article contains information from an article she wrote about “Oh, my aching neck.” I recently wrote an article and did a YouTube video on computer neck, which covers these same topics and show you a few exercises to combat it. 

Have you ever watched people on their electronic devices? What is their general posture while using a smartphone, tablet or other electronic technology? It doesn’t take an expert to see people with poor posture while using their devices. Look at yourself, what device are you using and in what position are you in while reading this article? Are you leaning over a table, or in a chair, slouched or slumped over? Is your head projected forward and your shoulders rounded forward to resemble Quasimodo?

Also, consider how much time you are spending each day using your electronic technology and the time that you are maintaining this unhealthy posture! The body will accommodate to the unnatural body position, and it will become normal and comfortable to you over time as the length of ligaments, tendons and muscles deform.  This unnatural body position will cause tight neck and back muscles, a stiff neck, headaches, forward rolled shoulders, and other neck and spine pain. You will also be placing chronic stress on your lungs, organs and discs causing your body to decrease its normal function even more and deform the natural curves in the spine to those of a 90 year old with osteoporosis.

Can you see it?  “Oh, my aching neck”…and back and shoulders… A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically. The survey showed that eight to 18 year-olds use their entertainment media an average of seven hours and 38 minutes on a typical day (more than 53 hours a week) (Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, January 2010). This data was collected from 1999, 2004 and 2009.

So what exactly is forward head? The average human head weighs 10 pounds in a neutral position – when your ears are over your shoulders. When your head is held in a position in which your ears are forward of your shoulders, this is called forward head. For every inch you shift or tilt your head forward, the pressure on your spine doubles. So if you’re looking down at a smartphone, your neck is holding up what feels like 20 or 30 pounds. Ouch! All that extra pressure puts a strain on your spine, and can pull it out of alignment as well as deform the ligaments, discs and tendons. You could compare the forward head position to bending back your finger all the way and holding it there for a long time. As the tissues are stretched for a prolonged period of time, they get sore and inflamed. Staying in the forward head position can lead to muscle strain, disc herniations, pinched nerves and other concerns.

Over time, it can even flatten the natural C-curve of your neck and getting to and maintaining good/upright posture will not be possible. What is the C–curve? It is the natural curvature in the neck with the open part of the C directed toward the back of the neck. This curve is important to be maintained so that you have proper flexibility and range of motion with your neck. Also, a nice C-curve in the neck creates a relaxed spinal cord. Flattening it out straight creates tension. This tension causes stress to the spinal cord, and therefore inhibits nervous system function.

Rene Cailliet, MD, former director of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department at the University of Southern California, has written that “forward Head may result in the loss of 30 percent of vital lung capacity. These breath-related effects are primarily due to the loss of the C – curve, which prevents the muscles of the neck to properly lift the first rib during inhalation. The entire gastrointestinal system (particularly the large intestine) may become agitated from Forward Head, resulting in sluggish bowel movements” (Cailliet R, and Gross L, Rejuvenation Strategy, 1987).

So, along with spinal issues, what are the other issues that forward head can lead to? In some of his brain research, Roger Sperry, PhD (Nobel Prize Recipient for Brain Research), found that “only 10 percent of the brain’s energy output has to do with thinking, metabolism, and healing; whereas, the other 90 percent of the brain’s energy output is used to relate the physical body to gravity.” Dr. Sperry also discovered that “90 percent of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine.” Our modern posture of forward head will incapacitate normal spinal movement. Therefore, “a forward head posture will cause the brain to rob energy from thinking, metabolism, and immune function to deal with abnormal gravity/posture relationships and processing.”

To evaluate yourself for forward head do the following: place your heels against a wall. You should be able to touch the wall with your tail bone, your upper back and the back of your head without projecting your chin forward. Stay tuned for what to do about your forward head and aching neck!  Check out my YouTube video with exercises to assist this called computer neck.

About Janelle Baldwin

Janelle Baldwin is a physical therapist assistant (PTA) and lead fitness trainer for Agnesian HealthCare’s on-site fitness center, called the ZONE. She is a certified weight trainer (CWT), a strength and conditioning specialist (STS) and a certified strength and conditioning instructor (CSCI). Her 15 years of professional experience ranges from home care and work hardening/conditioning with the Agnesian HealthCare Sports, Spine & Work Center for many years to her role as a certified personal trainer; teaching fitness classes for which she is trained and certified for and maintaining the on-site fitness facility.

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