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It Will Be Chronic Times for the Cervical Spine

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05/01/2016 - Howdy! Catchy title, eh? I struggled with this article for a long time (well over a year) because it is such a difficult thing to understand. This problem is a result of technology, plain and simple . Don't get me wrong - I am not against it - but I don't believe anybody could predict what it has done to the body and the ramifications.

So I will go as far as I can with this as it involves so much information. First, let's look at a child sitting on the floor, playing a video game with fingers on the controller, upper back hunched over, head tilted up. Look familiar? Many a adults come in to my office with the same exact posture from sitting in front of their computer looking through bifocals complaining of neck and upper back discomfort. I have caught myself doing this also, when I am tired, working in my office.

Now for the biggies: the phone and laptop. There are a lot of individuals who will sit for hours - yes hours - hunched over, head hunkered down, working on these devices. This is common and I spend a lot of time observing this, explaining that there is a cause and effect for a lot of neck problems. Minus traumas, this is a major problem. Holding one's head in a sustained positioned for more than 15-20 minutes results in what is called plastic deformation of tissues and structure. That, in a nutshell, will result in changing the body's posture .

Now the science: In an article in Neuro and Spine Surgery, Surgical Technology International; November 2014 entitled "Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and position of the Head" the author shows how bad incorrect use of cell phones can be. Key points: In this study a mathematical model of a cervical spine with a head weighing 13.2 pounds. As the head flexes to look down, the weight of the head dramatically increases from a 15 degree neck flexion in which the head weighs 27 pounds to a 60 degree neck flexion in which the head now weighs 60 lbs.

Now let's connect some dots. Doing this repeatedly over many weeks and years will result in the cervical spine changing it's shape from a normal "C" curve to reversing its shape. The normal shape is a perfect shape that will allow three things to happen: (1) It resists gravity, kind of like a leaf spring. (2) It provides a lever for muscles to move the neck and the head. (3) It minimizes tension of the spinal cord and brain stem and the nerve roots. (The human brain stem actually extends into the upper neck.)

"Loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine leads to incrementally increased stresses about the cervical spine. These stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possible surgeries."

Dr Hansraj (the author of this article) claims that there are no other studies assessing the stresses about the neck when incrementally moving the head forward. This is interesting because there is a theory that every inch of forward displacement of the head results in the muscles having to work 10 times harder. (This was postulated by a famous orthopedist - Rene Calliett). So for example, if a 10 lb head was positioned an inch forward the muscles would be working about 100 pounds of effort to hold it up. So with this information, consider a neck flexed and looking down with forward head movement (which a lot of people do). This results in incredible stress to the muscles of the neck and upper back, not to mentioned the stress on your cervical discs and the cervical facet joints.

Back to the key points from the article:

Poor posture invariably occurs with the head in a tilted forward position, the shoulders drooping forward in a rounded position.

An average person spends 2-4 hours a day with their head tilted forward reading and texting on their smart phones or other devices, amassing 700-1400 hours of excess, abnormal cervical spine stress per year. A high school student may spend an extra 5000 hours in poor posture per year.

Poor posture is associated with reductions in testosterone levels, reduced serotonin, increased cortisol and reduced feelings of power.

Kind of scary, huh? Ok, now that I am done for this month I am getting away from this computer for the weekend . I've been watching my posture with my glasses on and I am getting tense in the neck and my upper back. See ya!

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