Your neck is the cradle of the universe.
Contemplate that for a moment.
Each one of us carries around a small universe within ourselves and it is the responsibility of the neck to support this universe. The brain, that small and mysterious organ where all hopes, dreams, memories, fears, and desires are stored, THAT is your universe. You are the person you are because of each of these components.
The neck houses a group of muscles and tendons, the basic structures that keep the head aloft and mobile; it also has the ability to move in many directions and do so with a large range of motion.
All the movements made by the rest of the body also affect the neck, that is a lot of responsibility for one small part of the human anatomy.
To help support the neck and keep it protected, there are several every-day activities, motions and/or equipment that may be modified, reduced or altogether avoided.
Activities to Modify
Reading is a great way to experience other worlds, new ideas or learn about other people all without leaving the comfort of your house…but, in what position do you enjoy your tomes?
- Are you slouched in a chair?
- Are you curled up in a ball in bed?
- Are you hiding under the blankets, using a flashlight or an alarm clock for light?
All of these might be comfortable but after a while may cause the neck to feel stiff or sore because we tend to find ourselves hunched over.
If you’re like me and find yourself repeating “just one more chapter”, then finally tear yourself away from the book only to find that one chapter turned into two or three, you may notice that you are more uncomfortable than at the start.
Me, myself is a sucker for back massage cushions, and this Travel Pillow both keeps my head up and gives a good massage. I use it even if it is not turned on, since then it will work like one of these neck thingys you use at an airplane.
To modify this activity, change positions every chapter or so, get up and get a drink of water or walk around for a minute or just hold the book or e-reader up at eye level to decrease the slouch. This will limit the amount of time your neck is set at odd angles and decrease strain.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
“Ergonomics is the applied science concerned with designing and arranging things
people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely”
In recent years ergonomics has become more important. It is even OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) mandated. An employee’s workspace must be arranged such that any strain is minimized.
For the neck specifically, the best modification is to reposition the computer monitor. It should be at eye-level and should be at a comfortable distance so that one does not have to strain to see it by moving closer or backing farther away.
It is completely within an employee’s rights to request changes be made and it is in the employer’s best interest to make these changes as it increases productivity as well as decreased medical costs among employees.
Lower Back Pain cushion for lumbar support can be good for you office chair, or even a good ergonomic chair for your posture can do wonders for your neck.
This chair is actually really good. I have used one A LOT during my studies and it’s hard to go back once you’ve tried it. It is called Modrine Ergonomic Kneeling Chair If you want to check it out.
It has been said that we spend half of our lives in bed and that is why spending a little (or a lot of) money on a good mattress is well worth it. No one really ever talks about the pillows though. Did you know that there are certain types of pillows that are best depending on how you sleep, i.e. on your back, stomach or sides?
So, how does one choose a good pillow?
According to sleep.org:
Back sleepers might find a thinner pillow more comfortable and that it should be a little thicker on the bottom third. It will ensure that the neck is not thrown too far forward and that the neck is supported or cradled. They suggest memory foam as a good option, because it molds to the shape of your head and neck, or a water pillow since it offers all-over consistent support.
Stomach sleepers, they say, could use the thinnest type of pillow or even no pillow at all. However, sleeping on one’s stomach puts lots of stress on the lower back, so they suggest trying to sleep on the side instead and hugging a body pillow if the person likes the feeling of something pressing against the stomach.
Side sleepers should choose a firm pillow, and one with an extra-wide gusset to help bridge the distance between your ear and shoulder. (Instead of a pillow that has just a top panel sewed directly to a bottom panel, a gusseted pillow has rectangular panels along all four sides that increase its thickness.)
Now we know! I will be going to purchase a new pillow ASAP!
Here are some I might suggest:
It seems as though proper posture is a cure for darn near all the ailments that arise in the torso area.
If one only sits upright it decreases the awkward angles the neck takes when reading, writing, watching TV etc. So, stack each vertebra on top of another, lift the crown of the head high and know that you are easing the strain on the tendons, muscles, and ligaments that cradle the universe.
Upright GO is a Smart and wearable Posture Trainer that you can use with your smartphone that will remind you when you are sloaching. Pretty cool! Have not tried it though.
Body Rite Posture Pleaser makes your shoulders and back settle into proper, comfortable alignment
Here is another Posture Trainer Back Support that can help your posture a lot!
Also, a good backpack is something to really consider, especially if you already have neck/back problems.
Activities to Reduce
If your job demands a lot of overhead work such as painting or inventory shelving, building, electricity or any number of other occupations, it is best to reduce the length of time spent in one go.
Take frequent breaks so that the neck (and arms and back) may rest and recover from the repetitive and prolonged activity. Even if you do some of these things as a hobby, always be mindful of the body’s needs. This will also help reduce headaches caused by neck strain.
Resting Head on Fist/Hand
I must admit this is not something I would have ever thought about.
Resting one’s head on one’s fist or hand is a natural way to sit. It is admittedly comfortable but, it prolongs the flexion and extension of the tendons and muscles in the neck and over time may cause them to become loose (or overstretched).
This, and many of the other activities in this article makes the neck more vulnerable to strain and instability.
Mobile Device Use
Apparently, the generation of millennials have grown up with some kind of device in their hands – it is increasingly common to see back and neck problems among youth.
It is just the way of things to look down at the phone, or any other tech-toy one chooses to use. The longer one looks down the lower to the ground one tends to get. The head begins to bow, the neck begins to bend and all of a sudden, you’re slouched so low even your mood is plummeting.
So, the obvious fix here is to reduce mobile device use as a whole; even for a few minutes at dinner, or first thing in the morning (this by the way also reduces stress in general, no social media first thing in the morning means not getting caught up in other people’s’ drama before breakfast).
Take the time to look up, sit up straight, or stand up straight and notice the world around you, ESPECIALLY if you’re walking. That last should not have to be said but let’s be real, people used to walk and read actual books so that’s also not new.
**A really wonderful, thought-provoking read on the similarities between the brain and the universe can be found here: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/your-brain-is-the-univers_b_2992746.html
Activities to Avoid
Uneven Weight Distribution
When I was in elementary school it was “cool” to carry your backpack on just one shoulder.
In high school, I hated going to my locker so, even though the weight of my backpack was more evenly distributed between both shoulders I carried EVERY BOOK I would need for the day. Purses or satchels are another perpetrators of uneven distribution of weight.
Those over-the-shoulder bags can throw the balance off and make the strain on the neck too much.
Avoid heavy bags altogether; ladies honestly, how much of what’s in that purse do you REALLY need?
Students; you all don’t have as many books now but still remember to distribute that backpack weight evenly, trust me you’ll thank me later in life.
When warming up or cooling down during a workout, neck rolls should be left out if one’s neck is already strained or sore so as not to exacerbate the issue. Instead, try turning the head slowly from side to side. Avoiding the roll movement is all about protecting the neck and may be resumed after the strain has healed.
Sit Ups and/or Crunches
This exercise is most often done while placing the hands behind the head. If done improperly it may lead to one pulling on the head during the upward motion of crunching/sitting up. All that does is put extra stress on the neck which will always lead to pain or strain if done repeatedly.
It is best to avoid these exercises for the duration of pre-existing neck pain.
Like anything else, there are warning signs that something more serious may be happening and may need more advanced care. Most neck strain will go away on its own or with a little self-care but…
It is the recommendation of the Mayo Clinic to seek medical attention for any neck pain that:
- Worsens in spite of any self-care steps taken
- Persists after several weeks of self-care
- Radiates down your arms or legs
- Is accompanied by a headache, numbness or tingling
The neck is the cradle of the universe.*
It is, therefore, in our best interest to protect it. Become familiar with the body and its signals, it is ALWAYS worth the time and attention. This can be accomplished with mindfulness practices as well as putting any preconceived notions such as: “pain is weakness leaving the body” out of your mind.
Pain is neither weakness nor is it something to push through, it is the body’s warning mechanism much like the hand pulling back quickly when being exposed to flame.
Neck strain can be caused by stress as well so always be aware of your inner world and what triggers your stress. Knowing all the inner workings of your universe will help you keep stress manageable, tension to a minimum and comfort at a maximum.