The Modern Neck
An increasingly common problem
Today more and more people, young and old, arrive in my clinic with neck
problems and I attribute this to the increased use of computers and console
We were never meant to be sitting at a desk within centimetres of a screen
for hours at a time. The damage it causes the neck and the complications
as a result of it are amazing.
The neck is designed to be constantly moved in all directions, it is not
meant to be fixed. Instead of improving the working conditions for people
the computer seems to have done the opposite. You, like me, probably see
people on a regular basis that will sit for 6 hours or more at a computer
and children will sit for almost as long either at a computer or playing
at a play station or something similar.
When using a computer to excess you can soon get degeneration of the discs.
In fact if you are sitting for more than 3 hours in a day then the body begins
to build up scar tissue around the joints, limiting the full range of movement
of the joint. Research has shown that for every inch of anterior head carriage
the posterior cervical muscles have to work 10 times harder! On top of this
the anterior cervical muscles become shortened encouraging the anterior head
The head is about the shape and weight of a bowling ball, and is subject
to the same Laws of Physics as other objects. As the head moves outside its
natural stable point, above the centre of the shoulder, gravity takes hold
and wants the head to hit the floor. Think of a bowling ball with a cut-off
broom handle stuck in one hole. The ball will balance when the broom handle
is upright, but tilt the handle slightly forward and the bowling ball will
fall to the ground. Gravity never sleeps. This Law of Physics affects the
body 24 hours a day.
The above figure shows how the muscles of the whole back come into play in
supporting the weight of the head, apart from the neck area being compromised
there is a chronic loading on the vertebrae and discs in the lower back which
increases susceptibility to injury, overuse syndromes and fatigue of the
The above figure shows, A, normal head posture and, B, lift at the neck with
a forward head posture.
What is happening?
All these changes around the neck can present themselves in a number of different
ways. Apart from the neck discomfort/pain that a lot of people present with
are the symptoms of a compromised vertebral artery. With increased anterior
head carriage the vertebral artery can become restricted, causing a whole
host symptoms including: fatigue, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, short-term
memory loss, confusion and lack of verbal expression, tinnitus, autoimmune
disorders, loss of libido, menstrual dysfunctions, depression, disturbed
sleep, craving for sugar, hyperventilation and palpitations.
The nerves of the neck can also be compromised. Here is a quick review of
the major nerves of the neck and the possible symptoms associated with
impingements upon them:-
" The vagus nerve (tenth cranial nerve) exits the skull via the jugular foramen.
It is sometimes called "the wanderer" due to its long and coursing route
down the neck and thorax. It passes vertically down the neck within the carotid
sheath, lying at first between the internal jugular vein and the internal
carotid artery, and then between the vein and the common carotid artery.
At the neck's root, the vagus accompanies the common carotid artery and lies
anterior to the subclavian artery. It then enters the thoracic region of
The vagus nerve gives off many branches which supplying both motor and sensory
The vagus nerve supplies sensory fibers to the ear, tongue, and pharynx,
and larynx, motor fibers to the pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.
Branches supply sensory and motor components to the heart, respiratory passages
and abdominal viscera.
Any interference with the functioning of the vagus nerve due to a misalignment
of a vertebra in the cervical region particularly in the upper cervicals,
occipital base area could have an impact on the vagus nerve resulting in
respiratory and/or digestive disturbances, which on the whole remain silent
" Accessory nerve (eleventh cranial nerve) is a motor nerve. It is distributed
via branches of the vagus nerve to the muscles of the soft palate, pharynx
and larynx and a large spinal root that innervates the sternocleidomastoid
and trapezius muscles. Impingements to the accessory nerve can result in
dysfunction of the muscles it innervates.
" Hypoglossal nerve (twelfth cranial nerve) is the motor nerve supply to
the tongue. It descends between the internal carotid artery and the internal
What can we do?
Alter the way we use the computer! Here are some points to consider.
Key factors known to increase the risk of neck muscle and joint problems
" Poor sitting posture
" Keying or using the mouse with arms/elbows extended forward
" Working too long without breaks
" Poor typing technique
" Feeling pressured and tense
Adjust your chair
Use the chair for support, not the desk - sit well back into your chair;
adjust the height of the chair back to fit into the small of your back, low
enough to support your pelvis in a forward tilt.
Let the chair take the strain - use the tilt adjustment to recline the back
support sufficiently to allow your back and neck muscles to relax, whilst
maintaining an upright posture.
Sit tall - with your head balance squarely on your shoulders, keep your shoulders
relaxed and elbows tucked close by your sides.
Raise the height of your chair so your elbows are above the desk level, in
line with the middle row of letters on your keyboard.
Use a footrest if your heels are now not touching the floor.
Sit close to the desk, keep your elbows tucked in at your sides when typing
or using the mouse. Ensure your upper arms are free to hang vertically down
from your shoulders.
If the arms on your chair prevent this, use a chair without arms or see if
the arms can be safely removed.
Lift your wrists to type, keeping your hands in alignment with your arms.
Only rest your wrists on the edge of the desk when not typing or better still,
relax your arms by your sides or do stretching exercises.
Ensure you have first adjusted your chair to support an upright but relaxed
posture. Then position your display screen equipment to ensure you can maintain
that correct posture whilst working.
If you use a laptop for more than an hour at a time, always use an additional
keyboard and mouse, which will ensure you can maintain the correct posture
for keyboard/screen work.
Keyboard and Mouse
Relax against the chair back, keep your elbows close to your sides and draw
your chair close to the desk. Bring your keyboard and mouse close to the
desk edge, leaving sufficient space to rest your wrists when not keying.
If you need to look at your fingers to key, avoid dropping your head forward.
Instead remain upright, using your chair for support, pull your chin in and
lower your eyes (not your head) to view your keyboard.
Lift your wrists to key, keeping them straight, not flexed back. A wrist
support should only be used when at rest. Avoid mouse use by using keyboard
shortcuts instead. If you must use the mouse be careful to hold it lightly
with a relaxed hand when in use. When not operating the mouse, release your
hold and relax your arm or do some stretching exercises.
Position the screen straight in front of you.
Maintain the correct sitting and keying posture described earlier and position
your screen so you can view it with relaxed eyes, looking down as you would
for comfortable reading. The top of the screen should be no higher than your
eyebrows, to reduce visual fatigue and the risk of neck problems.
A comfortable viewing distance is generally 50-60cm (20-24"), but this is
determined by your vision and whether spectacles are worn. Single focus lenses
are preferable for screen use. Varifocals are not recommended as they can
cause neck problems.
Position you computer workstation away from the window, if at all possible
and at right angles to it.
Work smart - take a break!
Frequent short breaks from your screen are better than longer infrequent
ones. Plan your day to break up longer spells at your keyboard with other
Sit static at your computer for longer than an hour without changing your
posture, or taking some exercise away from your screen.
Hold on to your mouse unless you are actually using it, but let go and allow
your arm/hand to relax between use
Reach forward to lean your arms on your desk; instead rest back against your
chair for support.
Put up with pain or discomfort, but seek help immediately to identify the
posture and work factors putting you at risk.
For some exercises to do at your desk, go to:
This shoulder squeeze is also a good one to do.
1. Raise your arms to your sides until they're parallel with the floor. Bend
your elbows, keeping them at shoulder height.
2. Push your arms backward and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold
the position. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat the procedure.
As far as children are concerned here is a good site for advice about posture
for children at the computer. If we can get children sitting correctly at
the computer, what a great service we will be providing for them.
Ishta Spinal Touch to the rescue!
Obviously everyone working at a computer, children included, need an Ishta
Spinal Touch treatment regularly. This is after we have rehabilitated the
posture following a course of treatment. The frequency of treatment will
vary depending on age, general health, level and type of exercise undertaken.
But the minimum time between appointments for regular users of the computer
should be once per month, and even more regular for heavy users.
The Posture Master
We have discovered a fantastic product to help our patients overcome the
effects of cervical lift. As you know once lift has established, muscle
adaptation begins. The Posture Master is a pillow which helps to stretch
out all those tightened muscles in the neck and upper back. This will speed
up the correction of the lift.
Find out more information
here. Please let
them know you heard about it from us.
-Dr Ali's Back book
-The Free Dictionary by Farlex
-Diagram of neck- University of Bristol
An interesting web page to view for more detailed anatomy of the neck is-