Recently I read this article in the Royal Gazette about one woman's saga of neck pain. Her struggle to reconcile with the fact that her iPad caused her recurring neck pain is a common functional adaptation to our increasingly technological world. Most of my clients sit for up to 12 hours a day hunched at the computer. They say that their job is taking a toll on their health and their ability to move freely.
Trying to sit up straight and view my computer screen is killing my body. I feel as if I'm getting "old" before my time.
Their doctors tell them that they have degenerative disks, yet neck pain is merely the symptom, not the cause of the problem. The root cause is the habituation of a well known, yet ignored involuntary stress reflex common to all humans and vertebrate animals: the Startle Reflex (or Red Light Reflex). This reflex is invoked in response to fear, anxiety and worry, the need to protect oneself, or repetitive slumping over a computer, smartphone or iPad.
The "posture of senility" and fear is the posture of the computer generation.
What does the Red Light Reflex look like? Hunched and slumped shoulders, face thrust forward, chest collapsed, tight belly, rounded upper back. This posture used to be consider "elderly" posture, yet age has nothing to do with slumped, hunched shoulders; this is a functional adaptation to one's technology as well as one's emotional stress. Habituation of this reflex can lead to headaches, TMJ, neck and shoulder pain, shallow breathing and fatigue. The solution is to restore awareness of one's posture and movement, and learn to release and relax the muscles involved so you can return to a neutral, pain-free posture.
A picture is worth a thousand words and the photo at right says it all. This young boy looks a lot like teenagers I see walking around, ignoring each other, immersed in their smartphones. This posture has become the "new normal" for many. Even small children are becoming experts at slumping.
As you read this post, ask yourself these questions:
- Are sitting like this little boy, mesmerized by the computer screen? Is the back of your neck tight?
- Is your stomach tight?
- Are you breathing deeply?
- How do the tops of your shoulders feel? If you straighten your neck to a comfortable, neutral position can you see your computer screen?
Hanna Somatic Exercises can help reverse neck pain and improve breathing.
Migraines, eye strain, shallow breathing, thoracic outlet syndrome, TMJ and mid/upper back pain are conditions that can develop due to excessive technology use and habituation of a slumped, Red Light Reflex posture. The muscles involved in this reflex (and posture) are always at the ready: to check the phone with the neck tilted forward or crane the neck to see the computer screen. Somatic Exercises and pandiculation help you hit the reset button in your brain (the command center of your muscles) so you can relieve your pain, regain your movement and get your life back.
Remember - movement is medicine. The brain teaches you to adapt to your environment - for better or for worse. Today's western industrialized society is more and more sedentary and people take fewer and fewer breaks to stand up, shake their hips, roll their shoulders, stretch out their arms or jump up and down.
Remind your muscles that they don't have to stay tight and frozen; get up and move! Circle your arms, do the Twist, jump up and down, take some long, deep breaths and slowly roll your shoulders. And then go for a walk. Preferably without your phone.
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