A short while ago I had the opportunity to participate in the Davis County Safe Kids Fair. It was a lot of fun to see the kids climbing around on the fire trucks and ambulances. They even had the chance to shoot the fire hose and put out a pretend fire in the form of three small cones. . Important information was being shared to parents and kids about safety and health topics. There were many games for the kids to play and prizes to be won. One question that I was repeated asked was about kids’ posture and the new trend of forward stretched heads leading to neck pain and headaches. Even parents are starting to see this so it is becoming more common. Keep in mind that just because it is common does NOT mean it is normal.
I remember years ago when Nintendo was popular and kids played it so much they started to have pain and damage in the thumb joint. It was so prevalent that the medical community created a diagnosis for it, “gamers’ thumb”. Now we are seeing something similar with “text neck”. Kids and adults are looking down constantly on their phone and iPods where they begin to have pain and stiffness in the neck and there neck starts to jut out beyond normal limits. This is starting to have affects in kids where they are getting neck pain and headaches. Kids should not be having headaches. Let’s look at some ways to reverse this trend before it gets out of hand.
First solution would be to put the phone down and look around at the beautiful world more than your tiny screen. How much are we missing and letting life zip by? Spending more time in a virtual world than in the real world? Second, exercises and stretches are important to help restore range of motion in the neck and reduce the effects of poor posture. Why can these be so helpful? Here is a quick review of the anatomy.
The relationship between neck pain and headaches is strong! In fact, in some cases, headaches will occur ONLY when the neck hurts. One reason is because the first three nerves that exit out from the top of the cervical spine (C1, 2 and 3) have to travel through the thick group of muscles that insert onto the back/base of the skull along the occipital rim. These are stretched tight when looking down at our phone or device. Also because we carry a lot of stress in the neck muscles, when they tighten up, they squeeze or pinch those 3 nerves and pain then radiates into the back of the head and sometimes up and over the vertex to the eyes or behind the eyes. If you take your fingers or thumb and push firmly into those muscles at the very top of the neck or base of the skull, it often feels, “…like a good hurt.” (You can show your kids how to do this and see if they feel it too.) This is because they are usually tight since most of us carry our head too far forwards and the muscles have to contract and constantly work to keep the head from gliding even further.
So, what can YOU do about it? Let’s talk about a few GREAT posture retraining exercises. Tuck in your chin to the point where the voice changes pitch (your voice will start to sound “funny”, kids love this one). At that point, release the chin slightly so the voice clears and stay in position. That is the posture or head position of choice. Initially, it will be very difficult to remember to hold that position very long because your muscles (and brain) aren’t used to it and, you’ll slip back into the old forward head carriage habit or chin poke position. So, be patient with yourself because it takes about 3 months of constant self-reminding to, “…keep that chin tucked,” before this new “habit pattern” is formed in the brain.
Another great exercise is an variation of this, where you tuck the chin in as far as you can (making a double or triple chin) holding that position for 3 seconds, and then tip the head back as far as you can without releasing the chin tuck and hold for another 3 seconds. Repeat this 2-3x / “set” and perform this multiple times per day. You can do this each morning and evening with the kids and the whole family will benefit.
A 3rd great exercise for improving the forward head carriage posture is performed by lying on your back on a bed so that the edge of the bed is at the middle of the neck and head is dangling off the bed. Take a tightly rolled up towel (a hand size towel works well) and place it under the neck so that is resting on the edge of the bed so that your head can fall back towards the floor. Take some deep breaths and concentrate on relaxing all your neck muscles. Periodically, slowly rotate your head left to right, right to left, and “feel” the different muscles stretch as you do this. Work your way up to 15 minutes and do this each night for maximum benefit. When you are done, roll to one side and get up rather than coming straight up like a “sit-up”, your neck will thank you.
Use some of these ideas or all of them and notice how your kids and you will begin to have better posture that puts less stress on the neck muscles. Of course as always, making sure the vertebrae are in alignment is key to long term mobility and health so don’t forget to get your regular adjustment.