Article by Dr. Martin Kruger

Dr Martin graduated from Wits Technikon with a Masters degree in Chiropractic in 2004. He also has a diploma in Craniosacral therapy and has a special interest in Functional medicine. He is a keen reader of Chiropractic philosophy and applies holistic healing philosophy to his practice. 

Having been in practice for the past 12 years it seems I have made a name for myself with my quirky, yet sometimes dry sense of humor particularly when it comes to dealing with people. I have always made the statement to my patients that come in with work related (ergonomic) neck pain that “laptops are going to pay for my first Porsche”. The best response I ever heard from a patient was “well, a laptop has paid for my first Porsche so just get me right …”. We both laughed out loud and then I broke his neck. …………Just kidding.

The prevalence of neck pain in the workplace is becoming more and more evident. The ‘text neck’ or computer related neck issues are becoming an issue that affects work performance and even absenteeism.  It’s not uncommon for most people to stare at a screen or cellphone for hours on end with a resultant discomfort or feeling of “having a heavy head”. If symptoms of neck pain warrant further investigation Chiropractors refer the patient out for neck x-rays to have a better understanding of the underlying biomechanics that may be compromised or degenerated.

A very interesting common denominator keeps on presenting itself in the vast majority of cases. When a radiologist evaluates the x-ray of cervical vertebrae, they look at the natural curvature of the neck (referred to as lordosis). If this normal curvature is not present it is often described as being as a result of muscle spasm.

Now here’s the thing, the radiologist hasn’t had a chance to actually get his hands on the patient so they have to assume there is spasm. I on the other hand have to do a very in-depth evaluation of the movement of the vertebrae and almost every time there is no muscle spasm whatsoever, only pain in the muscles.

What’s really going on here is that there has been a progressive loss of the curve of the neck over time due to incorrect posture and biomechanics. As the curve is lost, there is a progressive forward movement of the head called forward head posture. Chiropractors have been saying for over 100 years that abnormal spinal positions can affect other functions, and it seems even the medical doctors are getting on board with that theory:

Rene Cailliet M.D., famous medical author and former director of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Southern California states:

“A Head in forward posture can add up to thirty pounds of abnormal leverage on the cervical spine. This can pull the entire spine out of alignment. Forward head posture (FHP) may result in the loss of 30% of vital lung capacity. These breath-related effects are primarily due to the loss of the cervical lordosis, which blocks the action of the hyoid muscles, especially the inferior hyoid responsible for helping lift the first rib during inhalation.”

Here we see that having the head in the incorrect position can affect your breathing!

Can you imagine all the other effects it is having on your health? So what can we do about it?

I strongly recommend regular visits to your Chiropractor to check your spine for vertebral subluxation (misalignment). Only a chiropractor is licensed to locate and correct these subluxated vertebrae.

A quick home test to see if you have a neck misalignment is to simply turn your head and look as far as possible over your left shoulder (without moving the shoulders, only the neck should move). Have a look at how close your nose gets to your collarbone, now look to the right. Is it equal both sides? Is it painless, with no jerking or straining?  It should be quite easy for you to get your nose over the collarbone, that is, the neck should move 90 degrees either side without pain or restriction.

Another way to see if you have forward head posture (FHP) is to stand with your back against a wall. Your heels, bum, shoulders and head should all be able to touch the wall comfortably. People with FHP will feel uncomfortable resting their head on the wall; they feel like they need to push their head back so it is in line with the wall.

If you feel you may have FHP you could try a simple home traction exercise, which helps align the vertebrae and creates a curve using gravity. I know you’re lazy and don’t want any exercises so here something you can do lying down!

Grab a towel, roll it up into a cylinder and place it under the neck whilst lying on the ground.  Palms should face upward. Try use this time to reflect on the day or set a good intention for the day ahead. 15 minutes in this position often releases neck tension and soothes aching muscles.  In the same way you can straighten teeth over a period of years do not expect this technique to instantly change your neck curve, but with repetition and persistence you may just prevent a worsening of the neck. We have seen cases resolve but it does take time.

In a study of 110 students at San Francisco University, half of whom were told to walk in a slumped position and the other half to skip down a hall, the skippers had a lot more energy throughout the day.

If you are reading this article, you’re almost certainly in a slouched position and staring at the monitor with wild eyes amazed at my unbelievably bad punctuation and literacy. I ask you to only do one thing today, sit up straight, get that head over your shoulders and smile. Watch the difference good posture makes in your day.

Martin Krüger is a Chiropractor at The Spine Clinic 73 Linksfield Road, Johannesburg

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