Vim & Vigor - Fall 2013 - University of Virginia - (Page 52)

Heads BY HOLLY FORD Free yourself from the aches and pains of poor posture S lumped shoulders, drooping heads, arched wrists and twitching thumbs are everywhere. It might sound like the zombie apocalypse. But it’s just another day at the office. Poor posture has taken hold of many of us, and it’s become more difficult to break free now that technology has invaded every part of our lives. Slouching over a keyboard, manipulating a smartphone and straining to see a tablet put our bodies in some pretty awkward positions. Day in and day out, these contortions eventually may lead to recurrent pain and tension. According to Francis Shen, MD, co-director of the University of Virginia Spine Center, it’s not just the way we use technology, but also how long we remain fixed on our devices that put us at risk for spine and neck problems. “When reading a book, you can stop and take a break,” Shen says. “But with movies and games on a phone or an iPad, it’s harder to stop and come back, so you’re holding your posture for long periods. Anytime your head and shoulders are drooping for an extended period of time, you can experience postural fatigue.” KEEP THE SPINE ALIGNED The spine is the body’s scaffolding, Shen explains. Core muscles help stabilize this framework, but for many of us, these muscles aren’t as strong as they used to be. “As we become less active, our core strength decreases,” Shen says. This, combined with a tendency to slouch over our gadgets, means there is a greater likelihood that our bodies will default to a posture that puts our spine out of alignment. 52 FA L L 2 013 “If you can tuck in your abdominals so that your head is in line with your pelvis, then you have better biomechanics of the spine,” Shen says. “But when you have more weight pulling you forward—either because of obesity or poor posture—then your center of gravity is off. As a result, you’re putting pressure on spinal disks, which can degenerate over time.” Spinal disks are the pads or cushions between the vertebrae; they allow for flexibility and movement of the spine and act as shock absorbers. Some normal wear of these disks comes with age, but genetics, obesity, smoking, acute injury and recurrent postural fatigue can all speed up the process. Over time, persistent disk degeneration may lead to serious conditions such as spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal). Present in approximately 60 percent of people ages 60 to 70, this can cause leg and arm pain and weakness due to pinched nerves in the spine. MAKE THE EFFORT, SEE THE CHANGE The good news, according to Shen, is that even with more serious spinal conditions like stenosis, the symptoms can be managed. “Most patients never need surgery for stenosis,” he says. “If they lose weight, stop smoking, strengthen core muscles and use anti-inflammatory medications, then they often improve.” For those already experiencing the day-to-day aches associated with poor posture, relief will come with rest, most of the time. “Ninety percent of those experiencing pain due to postural fatigue will get better with rest, heat or ice and anti-inflammatory medication,” Shen says. “If symptoms persist after four to six weeks, then it’s worth a visit to your family doctor.” Overall, your best defense against neck and back pain is becoming more aware of how you’re positioned and for how long. Take a look at Shen’s tips at right for suggestions on how to work (and play) smart and prevent the discomfort and postural fatigue that so often come with technology use. “You only get one spine,” he says. Use it wisely.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vim & Vigor - Fall 2013 - University of Virginia

Vim & Vigor - Fall 2013 - University of Virginia
Life in Balance
Feeling Weighed Down?
Out of Rhythm but Not Options
Step It Up
Your Mightiest Muscle
Well, Well, Well
Are You Doing More Harm Than Good?
Is Your Shut-Eye Serving You Well?
Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge
Anatomy of an ER Visit
Next-Gen Surgery
Attack from Within
Virtual Health
Struggling to Breathe
Heads Up
A Swing and a Hit

Vim & Vigor - Fall 2013 - University of Virginia