Your neck and computer; not a happy couple

Your neck and computer; not a happy couple

Ironically, as you are reading this column, I am contributing to the condition that is the topic of this column. In fairness however, the amount of time you spend on this page likely pales in comparison to the overall amount of time you spend in front of a computer or in a very similar position.

Depending on the source, the average teen and adult will spend anywhere from 60 minutes to several hours per day of leisure time on the computer. Keep in mind this does not include work time on the computer, which for sedentary office type work can add several hours per day. Being stuck in this position for hours on end is a source of chronic pain and worsened biomechanics for many people. This position of neck forward and rounded shoulders has recently been termed "Computer neck".

In reality, this position has been traditionally known as Upper Cross Syndrome and was first described by Valdimar Janda from the Czech Republic, a pioneer in rehabilitation medicine. Basically what upper cross syndrome describes is a weakening of rhomboid (mid-back) and deep neck flexor (front of neck) muscles along with a tightening of upper traps, levator scapulae (shoulders) and pectoralis (chest). These muscles when linked form a diagonal cross, hence the name upper cross. And yes, there is a lower cross syndrome as well, but that's for another time.

The effect of all this weakness and tightness is to alter your posture. Your shoulders round forward and is followed by your neck and head tilting forward as well. Your mid-back increases its kyphotic posture and becomes very stiff. Symptoms of this type of posture include:

  • Cervicogenic/Migraine headaches

  • Neck pain and immobility

  • Rotator cuff (shoulder) pain

  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

  • Mid back pain

In order to treat this syndrome, a number of things have to happen, not the least of which is trying to spend less hours in front of your computer. If that can't be changed, then a review of your workstation should be completed to put you in the best possible position (tips found here.). Chiropractic treatment can be very effective at not only relieving the symptoms of this condition, but also to make the changes in your spinal mobility to improve your posture. Your chiropractor will treat the joint restrictions and soft tissue tightness. Exercises to strengthen the weak muscles and stretches to lengthen the tightened ones should also be provided. Implementing microbreak exercises at work to unravel yourself is also a great idea. An example of Brugger's Postural Relief Exercise is found here.

"Computer neck" is a progressive, chronic condition that sneaks up on people and can already be quite advanced before any noticeable symptoms arrive. At the beginning, it is easily fixable, however if left untouched for months or even years, permanent postural dysfunction can result.

Thanks and have a healthy day!
Dr. Nimchuk is a chiropractor practicing at KLO Chiropractic Centre in Kelowna. He is also a full body Active Release Techniques® provider and Certified Exercise Physiologist®. He treats active patients from 2 months to 90 years old.