Cell phones are a wonderful invention, they enable us to be in constant contact with others enabling us to experience synergy and interdependence at a whole new level! With these new devices however, we have developed new postures that our physiology was not intended to support. Did you know that the average head weighs 8 to 10 pounds? That amounts to about the same weight as a medium weight bowling ball. Now imagine holding that bowling ball with your forearm oriented vertically, its heavy right? Now imagine holding that same bowling ball with your elbow down and your hand at a 45 degree angle or even a 90 degree angle and imagine holding this position for 45 minutes…, wow, that’s heavy! That is essentially the type of force we are placing on our cervicothoracic spine, the area where the neck meets the upper back when we lean forward in a poor posture and become engaged with our smart devices!
When we compromise our posture in this way on an occasional basis then we are likely to suffer with no more than occasional neck pain. But when we engage in this way with our smart devices day after day as most people today we begin to remodel our posture towards that of the hunchback of Notre Dame and what is worse, we begin a deteriorating assault upon our spine leading eventually to Degenerative Joint Disease, Scheunemann’s disease or even Wedge deformities of the vertebral bodies of the spine. Once we have developed these conditions in their moderate stages our best hop they have become.
So how can we utilize our high tech media devices regularly with minimal negative impact on our spine?
Hold the media near eye level when reading on your devices.
Increase the font size on our devices even if it means you are mocked and scorned by your friends. It will help you not have to squint and reduce your tendency to shift your head anteriorly.
Get a hands free station, such as an EZ Reader, to set your device on while reading so it will hold your device in a more ergonomically friendly position while reading for extended periods of time.
What else can we do to maintain a healthy spine while utilizing our portable media devices?
Get your eyes checked. If it turns out you need prescription eyeglasses or readers using these will help reduce the slouching and shifting forward of the head while using your devices.
Do the sexy look! This is where you look in the mirror and tuck your chin slightly while pulling your head posteriorly. If done correctly this will stretch the sub-occipital muscles at the base of the skull, the primary muscles responsible for shifting the head forward. When doing this you are looking for a stretch at the base of the skull, you will then hold this position for 3 full seconds at a time and repeat this stretch for one full minute several times each day. Eventually you will have less tightness in the sub-occipital muscles and less forward shifting of the head leading to better posture and increased spinal health!
Stretch your scanline’s, levator scapulae, upper trapezius muscles and your pectoralis major and minor muscles. Each of these muscles, when overly tight, brings your head and upper back into what we like to call the slouching posturer which is what we tend to have as our normal posture once we have become chronic users of portable media devices, books, computers or have desk jobs.
To teach you how to stretch these muscles I would have you first know the words ipsilateral and contralateral. Ipsilateral means of the same side while contralateral means of the opposite side. For each of the stretches your beginning neutral posture will be standing up tall with your breastbone gently elevated with your arms and shoulders relaxed and hanging by your side. And for each you will hold the stretches for 6-10 seconds at a time, switching from side to side and continuing for up to three minutes for each muscle group to be stretched. How often you repeat these stretches and how many sets you perform should be prescribed under competent medical or exercise professionals.
The Pectoralis muscles: One easy way to stretch these muscles is to stand in a doorway that has a door jam in a lunge position, ipsilateral foot back, contralateral foot forward, with a space between your feet equal to approximately 1 ½ times the width of your shoulders. You will point your feet in the direction of your drive which will be nearly perpendicular to the door frame you will grab with your ipsilateral hand. You will perform this stretch in three positions, determined by the position of your hand in relation to your ipsilateral shoulder when in a full stretch. The positions of the hand in full stretch should be 1) just above your shoulder height, 2) at shoulder height, and 3) below shoulder height.