Help for Neck Pain Caused by Smartphones

From the Desk of Dr. Len

Help for Neck Pain Caused by Smartphones

Dr. Len Lopez – Friday, October 30, 2015

Most unexplained aches and pains in our neck, back, shoulders, knees are caused by muscle imbalance.  Every muscle in your body has an antagonist or opposing muscle or group of muscles.

–  biceps oppose triceps

–  quadriceps oppose hamstrings

–  hip flexors oppose hip extensors (butt muscles)

–  abdominal muscles oppose low back muscles

In simple terms, when one muscle contracts, the opposing muscle stretches. Think of your muscles and bones, like a rope and tent pole that is stabilized by two ropes.  When you pull the left rope, the tent pole moves to the left – while at the same time the right rope has to loosen.  Your muscles are like those ropes, in that one has to contract, while at the exact same time its opposing muscle has to stretch in order to move your physical body.     



Bend your elbow, which contracts your bicep – and your tricep has to relax or stretch so your arm can bend. 

–          Bend your knee, which contracts your hamstring – and your quadricep has to stretch to allow your knee to bend.

This simple principle is applied to every muscle in your body, including the tiny muscles of your eyes and your neck muscles.  When you look to your right, the muscles on the right side of your eyes, contract and pull your eyeball to the right, while at the same time, the little eye muscles on the left side of your eyeball have to relax and stretch.  This allows your eyes to move to the right.

What contributes to unexplained neck pain is the over or continuous use of our smartphone, tablet, laptops, books, etc…anything that keeps your head in that downward position.  This causes all the muscle on the front of your neck to stay in that contracted and shorten position – while at the same time, the muscles on the back of your neck have to stretch and lengthen.  This causes muscle imbalance to the muscles and proprioceptors in our neck, and contributes to neck and upper back pain.  The longer you keep your head (your muscles) in that downward position, the shorter or more contracted the muscles on the front of your neck become, while at the same time you are lengthen the muscles on the back of your neck.  

Your creating muscle imbalance and causing some muscles to become shorter, while at the same time causing their opposing muscle to become stretched.    

You can also think of your muscles like a rubber or elastic bands, and they need to provide a certain amount of tension on both sides of your torso, joint, etc., to function properly.  Keep those muscles in a shortened or lengthened position too long, and those muscles will become literally shorter or longer, which is what is known as muscle imbalance.  The muscle imbalance around any joint, changes the tension and dynamics of that specific joint and can lead to pain not only in your neck, but to other common areas such as your upper back, low back, elbow, shoulder, knees, etc.  This is all because we may be putting our body in various positions throughout the day that causes us to shorten and lengthen various muscles.

How long do you keep your head in that downward position?  How long do you stay seated, keeping your hip flexors and hamstrings shorter? How long do you keep your arm above your head while you’re sleeping?  How long do you keep your dominate arm/hand in a flexed position as you hold on to your mouse?   So your daily activities may be what is causing that unexplained aches and pain.

To Help Alleviate the Pain in your neck, low back, upper back, etc… have to rebalance those muscles around that joint.  This is done by contracting the muscles that have been in that stretched position and lengthen those muscles that have become shortened.  To do this you need to….

Adjust how you use your cell phone, tablet, laptop, recliner, etc. – basically quit putting or keeping your head in that downward position for so long.  This exacerbates the problem and leads to pain.

Try raising your cell phone, tablet, etc. So you can look more straight ahead, instead of looking down (bad posture) so often, or at least every 5-10 minutes look up and raise your chin so you can rebalance the muscles around your neck.

Exercise the opposing muscles.

Start out by looking straight ahead and then raise your head-up, so you are looking up to the ceiling. This contracts the muscle on the back of your neck, which have been shortened, and stretches the muscles on the front of your neck, which have been contracted.  It’s a simple way to re-balance the muscle around ANY JOINT of the body.

Do this same exercise at home, but lie face down on your tummy or on your knees. This makes it a little harder by adding the resistance of gravity.

When in your car or in a high back chair.  Push the back of your head into the headrest. This activates additional muscle fibers and speeds up the recovery.

Yes, a good neck or cervical adjustment will help!  Keep in mind that if the muscles are tight around the neck and spine, not caused by spinal misalignment, but more by muscle imbalance, these simple physical therapy movements will further enhance your adjustment.

A lot of muscle imbalance comes from an accumulation of various activities.  Do you have a head forward posture when looking at your computer monitor?  Is your monitor at eye level?  Do you extend or push your neck forward when reading from your computer screen?  How about your body position when you drive, watch television, work, cook, fold clothes, etc?  It could be an accumulation of things.

Ask yourself, could the aches and pains in other areas of your body be caused by muscle imbalance?

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