Suffering from chronic neck pain and headaches can be a daily struggle and significantly lowers our health and sense of well-being. For some of us we can pinpoint the reasons for the pain but for many people it can be a mystery to how or why the pain has manifested.
Chances are that the pain is the result of bad posture built up over time through daily habits – many of which we are unaware of. The good news is that through careful and specific exercises and readjusting bad habits, we can start to realign the back and spine to eliminate bad posture and, in turn, get rid of neck pain and headaches. These can be done with no equipment and will take up almost no time making them an excellent and healthy part of your daily routine.
Causes of Bad Posture
Suffering from neck pain and headaches is all too common in these modern times. There can be many causes but the main culprit is down to modern practices resulting in bad posture – yes, our phones really are a pain in the neck.
The majority of us fall victim to our phones but how many times a day do you check it? If your answer is 30 or 40 times a day then you’ll be shocked to know that the more accurate number is double that. We check our phones, on average, 5 times every waking hour according to research and those subtle messaging and app-checking habits are causing havoc with our posture.
The head may feel light to us with our amazing muscles keeping it upright and balanced but it’s actually pretty heavy. When we bend our necks to check our phones we are adding a huge amount of weight and stress on the neck and the spine giving way to subtle shifts and ultimately bad posture and pain.
Put this together with long hours sitting at a desk and hunched over a computer at work, and you have a good idea of where your neck pain and headaches are manifesting from. Other daily habits we have that add to bad posture are:
- Carrying heavy bags on one side of the body – this sends the alignment of the back out of kilter and causes one side of the body to overcompensate.
- Being overweight – carrying extra weight in different areas of the body can cause bad posture. Carrying too much weight can pull on different muscles and again, causes the body to pull in different directions to make up for it.
- Wearing high heels and tight clothes – walking around daily in high heels is probably quite obvious when it comes to bad posture but wearing tight clothes or badly fitting clothes can change your centre of gravity and therefore your posture.
- Walking – be aware of how you walk. We tend to walk a certain way out of habit so it can be hard to notice but continually walking with your head down or shoulders slumped forward can add to your posture pulling out from its proper alignment.
- Past pain or injuries – when we’ve experienced an injury we tend to deal with the pain by holding our body in a different and unnatural position and when we hold this position on a daily basis it can become a habit and our posture inevitably suffers.
How Bad Posture Causes Neck Pain and Headaches
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Since the neck sits at the top of the back area and spine, it tends to be subject to its movements and misalignments. When the spine is out of alignment the tension builds up and manifests as neck pain and even headaches. Muscles in the neck are particularly affected by the degenerative effects of wear and tear on a daily basis and it’s these muscles that can become tight and cause problems.
The most common form of bad posture is the head hanging forward and shoulders slumped. Forward head posture is when the neck comes forward and lies over the shoulders resulting in the curving of the spine and the shoulders. This causes pain because of the undue stress on the vertebrae of the lower neck and over a period of time this can worsen and result in chronic neck pain and tension headaches.
Get Rid of Neck Pain and Headaches: How To Stop Bad Habits and Rectify Bad Posture
There are many easy ways you can keep your bad posture habits in check as well as daily exercises you can do to benefit your neck muscles and help prevent and relieve any neck or headache problems you may have.
Habits: Smartphones or ‘Text Neck’
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Pretty much everyone with a smartphone falls foul of this habit. In fact it is becoming a modern epidemic with 64% of us owning and checking phones on a daily basis. The average person has a 60 degree tilt when checking their screen which amounts to 60lbs or 27kg of pressure on the neck – that’s the equivalent of a seven year-old child. If that shocks you then it’s time to change your habits.
Bringing the screen to eye level will prevent the neck from tipping forward but equally shouldn’t be too high. Never place the phone on a table or near your lap and check it from there. If you’re using a tablet then try and prop it up so it’s at eye-level especially if you are using it for long periods of time.
Habits: Slouching While Sitting
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As I mentioned earlier, some of us can spend a lot of time sitting down at our desks and slouching over computers and laptops. If you work in an office then regulations should make sure you are given the right equipment and furniture to help with back health and posture but if you work from home or just generally watching TV then you need to be aware of how you’re sitting.
Make sure you don’t slouch in your chair and sit with your spine straight and fully supported. The height of the chair is important and should allow you to comfortably rest your feet on the floor and your knees at the level of your hips. Your monitor should be eye-level when you sit up straight. Sitting for long periods allows your back, shoulders and neck to become accustomed to a certain position so make sure that you walk around regularly and pay attention to any pain or niggles as that is your body’s way of telling you it can’t cope.
Exercise: Soldier Sleeping Position
This is a great exercise that helps to strengthen our neck muscles and help get rid of neck pain and headaches caused by bad posture. You can try this out at any time during the day or before bedtime.
While lying down with your head and neck resting on a pillow, push your head backwards as though forming a double chin while pressing the head gently back into the pillow. Repeat each movement for the duration of 5 seconds, 10-15 times. It is normal while doing this exercise, to feel like your throat is being blocked but this is okay!
Exercise: Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) Stretch
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The SCM muscle is the tightest muscle in your neck and needs a good stretch to relieve any tension caused by bad posture habits.
Sit in a chair or stand up straight, rotate your head to the right and look up at the ceiling. At this point, your chin should be pointing up at approximately a 45-degree angle. Gently place your left palm lightly on the top of your head above your right ear and gently pull your head toward your left shoulder. Make sure you continue to keep your chin pointing upward and hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. Ideally you should practice this exercise daily to relieve any tension that has built up during the day.
Exercise: Arm Swing
This exercise promotes good neck posture and strengthens the muscles in the back of your neck isometrically as well as strengthening the muscles in your upper back.
Hold your arms relaxed at your sides. Pull your head back so your neck is in line with your spine and look forward keeping your chin parallel to the floor. Place your palms together in front of your legs with your arms straight and gently lift your arms straight up and over your head. Pull your shoulders back as far as you can so your elbows and biceps go behind your head but without allowing your neck to jut forward too much. Hold this position for 10 seconds and go back to your original pose. Repeat several times throughout the day.
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