We are doing a multi-part series on orthopedic problems for gamers, focusing on different regions of the body. Today is Part IV, where we will look at neck impingement and some stretches to get you through your computer sessions.
10lbs doesn’t seem like that much. It’s pretty easy to hold 10lbs over your head - your arm is straight, all your bones are aligned and taking most of the resting weight. It isn’t too strenuous, but move the angle of your arm to a fresh 45 and you can immediately feel how much more difficult it is. Now all that work being done by your skeleton is taken over by the supporting muscles in your arm, shoulder, and back. At an angle, that 10lbs suddenly becomes a little (p)rehab workout.
Most folks’ heads weigh around 10lbs. When our posture is correct and our spine aligned, that weight is supported, but the minute you start to lean out of alignment, all the muscles in our necks start fighting gravity. A slight 15 degree tilt starts to make your head effectively 27-ish lbs, and at 45 degrees it starts to weigh 49lbs.
Everyone does it. We pull our phones out and angle our heads a little bit down. We read a book and slowly relax into a compromising position. We lean forward into our computers without noticing and, boom, next thing you know you’re walking around with a headache and feeling tired. This uncomfortable phenomenon has a name these days, and it’s called Text Neck.
The slight angle puts a lot of extra pressure on the discs in our spine, the tendons at the base of the skull, and, not only the supporting neck muscles in our neck (like our sternocleidomastoid [it’s really fun to type, sorry]), but the supporting neck muscles like our trapezius that we often think of as back muscles.
A small amount of tilt goes a long way, and the damage isn’t limited to muscular strain. That compression caused by our heads leaning forward actually has far-reaching ramifications. Most notably, neck impingement restricts blood flow, and thus oxygen flow, to our brains. This can result in feeling more drowsy than normal, and often leads to chronic headaches or migraines. Additionally, as the constant stress of holding our heads at an angle builds, other muscles start to pick up the slack of our exhausted neck muscles.This often leads to us clenching our jaws or hunching our shoulders without thinking about it.
Here are a couple of things you can do to alleviate these strains.
- Use the right screen height. We talked about this in Part II when we discussed the benefits of an ergonomic work space, but we all need reminders. Make sure the top of your screen is, at the very least, level with the top of your head. You want to do everything you can to resist tilting your head forward. When your screen is too low, it lures you into compromised posture!
- Your phone is a screen too. Lift it up. Phones are just really small computers, and the same advice applies: lift it up to eye level. Give your neck a break. You won’t look weird, and maybe you’ll stop walking into people.
- Take a break! Yes, there’s a pattern emerging. Any discussion about body balance while using computers will encourage you to take a break every so often. There’s no avoiding it. Walk around a little, get some water, let your blood flow. Maybe you do it after every match, or just set a timer, but make sure you’re getting up at least once an hour!
- Stretches! All that computer time will result in a lot of pent up stress that needs to be released. It’s pretty unavoidable. Here are four stretches that we like to do to relieve some of the stress in our necks.
- Head Rotations. This is a pretty instinctual stretch for most of us, and just involves doing a little around the world with our head. Sometimes it can get uncomfortable in the back if you’re super tense, so we recommend grabbing a towel and putting it around your neck so you can support your head better.
- Shoulder Rolls. Just getting up and rolling your shoulders a little, maybe envisioning a pencil between your shoulder blades that you’re trying to pinch, feels wonderful.
- Range of Motion. These can be a bit of an eye opener. Keeping a neutral spine, you just want to look as far as able to one side and then the other. You should feel it in the back of your neck, on the opposite side of the direction you’re looking.
- Chin Tucks. It’s hard to not feel a little ridiculous doing this one, but it’s important. Poor posture often leads to our heads jutting forward like a turtle, and this is to help combat that. All you do is push your head back and do a … chin tuck. You end up looking a little bit like you’re doing a chicken dance, but hold the tuck for a little and hopefully the nice “oh” feeling after a couple of reps will speak for itself.
It might feel a little heavy-handed, but it should be apparent that poor posture is at the root of a lot of pains that accompany long periods of computer time. We love computers, but we also love feeling good. Good posture is a monumental task to undertake. It can often be daunting to consider starting, but we hope that these tidbits and stretches help make the task seem a little more approachable. Best of luck out there, and tune in next week for a little snippet about the importance of hydration, and some lesser known ways of keeping hydrated while you game.
For gamers and athletes alike, whatever your passion or your profession, it’s nearly a sure bet you are on your electronic devices almost more than you’re not. Whether conducting battles on the business front or crushing enemies in lane, your body suffers from repeat muscle stress and prolonged bouts of sitting.
We get it, and we want to make you aware of a couple of potential painful problems associated with all that screen time so you can do something about them if you already have them or prevent them if you don’t.
Last time we talked a little about internal shoulder rotation as a symptom of poor posture and computer use. Today we’re going to continue to look at the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and the chronic musculoskeletal pains that accompany it by examining the stress we put on our necks.