Neck pain is a relatively common complaint, affecting 10-20% of the population annually and ranking as the most persistent musculoskeletal pain syndrome. Untreated, neck pain can worsen and advance to your shoulders and upper back.
Chronic neck pain may result from degenerative diseases like osteoporosis, arthritis, and spinal stenosis, and incidents such as falls, whiplash, and sports injuries. However, most cases of neck pain include poor posture as part of the underlying problem. Understanding how poor posture contributes to neck pain can help you make changes to improve your symptoms.
At Regenerative Pain & Spine in Chicago, Illinois, neck pain specialist Shoeb Mohiuddin, MD, and our team have extensive experience helping patients get relief from chronic neck pain. When poor posture is partly or fully to blame for your symptoms, Dr. Mohiuddin advises an appropriate course of therapy to help you re-establish and maintain good posture.
Proper posture vs. poor posture
Proper posture is defined as a position in which your ears are positioned directly above your shoulders while your chest is open and your shoulders are back. Whether standing or sitting, you should position your shoulders in a straight line over your hips.
This neutral position reduces stress on your neck because the position naturally balances your head’s weight on your cervical spine. The cervical spine is the structure of bones, muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments that make up your neck.
Poor posture while sitting, working, driving, or sleeping exerts stress on your spinal muscles, joints, and nerves, causing discomfort in your neck. Remaining in positions in which your muscles are stretched too far or contracted too tight can cause neck pain.
A common source of poor posture is called forward head posture. The condition commonly occurs as a result of sitting at a desk and looking at a computer screen for prolonged periods of time. This slanted position involves a tendency to lean your head forward.
Forward head posture is associated with neck pain often referred to as “tech neck” or “text neck” because it’s similar to the position associated with looking down at your tablet or phone while you text.
Magnified head weight
Poor posture causes neck pain because your neck works with your upper back and shoulders to support your head. In the neutral position, when you’re practicing proper posture, your head weighs 10-12 pounds. However, hunching over changes the weight distribution, doubling the load your head places on your spine for every inch you tilt it forward.
Bending your head forward only 15 degrees causes your spine to bear 27 pounds, which is 2-3 times the weight of your head. Leaning your head to 45 degrees, like you’d do when texting, increases the load on your spine to 49 pounds.
When you practice poor posture, your neck muscles have to work harder to support your head as you bend over farther. They must work to counterbalance the pull of gravity on your forward-bending head.
Bending over in this unnatural position causes stress on muscles that weren’t designed to accommodate the extra weight. Muscle strains and spasms can result, causing neck stiffness, pain, and limited range of movement.
Over time, poor posture can result in muscle imbalances, causing muscles in your neck, upper back, chest, and shoulders to become tight and shortened, while other muscles can become weak and elongated.
Rounded upper back
Poor posture positions your shoulders forward and rounds your upper back. Spending long periods in these positions can cause pain in your neck as well as your upper back and/or shoulders.
Placing abnormal and extra stress on the discs, facet joints, and vertebrae of your cervical spine can make you vulnerable to degenerative spine conditions including cervical degenerative disc disease and cervical osteoarthritis.
Getting an evaluation and diagnosis is the first step in relieving neck pain. To schedule a consultation, call one of our offices in Chicago’s West Ridge area.