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Complementary Corner

Oh, My Aching Neck!

Renee Lehman

(11/2012) I am putting on my physical therapy hat for this specific article because I see so many people with poor posture while using their modern electronic devices. What position are you in while reading this article? What is your posture while using your smartphone, tablet, or other electronic technology? Chances are you are standing, or leaning over a table, or in a chair, slouched or slumped over, your head projected forward, and your shoulders rounded forward. Am I right? Also, consider how much time you are spending each day using your electronic technology.

A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth. The survey showed that 8-18 year-olds use their entertainment media an average of 7 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. Imagine the amount of time that our youth might even be spending on their electronic technology today in 2012! And, it is not just children. The average amount of data used on a smartphone tripled from 2010 to 2011, according to Cisco's Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update (

Whether or not you have experienced this already, the fact is that this "position over time" will cause tight neck and back muscles, stiff neck, headaches, other neck and spine pain, and possibly other bodily issues.

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. (see Figure 1)

All that extra pressure puts a strain on your spine and can pull it out of alignment. 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 problems. Over time, it can even flatten the natural C-curve of your neck.

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.

So, along with spinal issues, what are the other issues that Forward Head can lead to? 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% 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).

In some of his brain research, Roger Sperry, PhD (Nobel Prize Recipient for Brain Research), found that only 10% of the brain’s energy output has to do with thinking, metabolism, and healing; whereas, the other 90% of the brain’s energy output is used to relate the physical body to gravity. Dr. Sperry also discovered that "90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine." Our modern posture (Forward Head) has essentially incapacitated this normal spinal movement. Consequently, 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).

If you have any of the above mentioned physical problems that are associated with a Forward Head posture, try the following exercises. The Chest stretch – stand up tall and bring your arms behind you, clasping one hand inside the other; gently lift your chest and raise your arms backwards and upwards slightly (while keeping your chin tucked down and back). Hold for 20 seconds and repeat three times. Another Chest stretch – face a corner in the room and place each forearm on a wall. Place one foot in front of the other and slowly stretch by leaning the body forward towards the wall; keep your chin tucked down and back. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat three times. Shoulder roll – stand upright; slowly roll shoulders backward 20 times in circular motion.

So what can you do to prevent the Forward Head posture? The best way to prevent Forward Head is to limit the use of your entertainment device/smartphone. If you need to send a longer e-mail, consider waiting until you have access to a computer, or use an external keyboard. When using your modern technology, sit up straight with your shoulder blades pulled back/towards each other. Bring your arms up in front of your eyes so that you don’t need to look down to see the screen (there is a new mobile application to remind you of this, called the Text Neck Indicator). Tuck your chin back and into your chest to look down rather than dropping your head forward. Place a pillow on your lap and then rest your forearms on the pillow while typing to help minimize neck tension. Make sure that you take breaks from your entertainment devices about every 20 – 30 minutes. Avoid using your modern technology while in bright sunlight. This causes you to strain to see the screen, which leads to jutting the chin forward, shifting work from the spine to the muscles that hold up the head.

Finally, and I think best of all, put the modern technology on the desk, go outside for a walk, breathe in some fresh air, and take in the  beauty of the natural world around you!

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman