Easy Ways to Reduce Neck Pain, From the June 2016 Harvard Health Letter

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Looking down at a smartphone or laptop for long periods of time can cause neck pain. To relieve pain, it helps to raise a screen closer to eye level and to do neck exercises and stretches.

When the source of neck pain seems like a mystery, the culprit may be a smartphone or laptop, reports the June 2016 Harvard Health Letter. Bending the head down to look at a screen puts the body in an unhealthy position. “Think of it as an overuse injury. The neck and shoulders are being forced into one static position for too long,” says Dr. Clare Safran-Norton, a physical therapist and clinical supervisor of rehabilitation services at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Looking down flexes the neck forward. Supporting this position requires the help of the muscles in the neck, and sometimes the shoulder and shoulder blade muscles. “After a while, the muscles will get tired, overstretched, and weak, and will begin to hurt,” says Dr. Safran-Norton.

But there are plenty of simple fixes. Many focus on raising the screen or reading material to eye level to avoid looking down. For instance:

  • Place a pillow on the lap, then rest the laptop or tablet on the pillow.
  • Raise a monitor to eye level by placing it on a stack of large, sturdy books.
  • Prop up a book in a book holder, and then place that on top of a pillow or table.

Simple neck exercises can also help reduce pain. But when pain lasts more than two weeks, Dr. Safran-Norton recommends seeking professional help. More serious causes of neck pain include arthritis, neck bone spurs, ruptured discs in the spine, fractures, scoliosis (sideways curvature of the spine), old whiplash injuries, and poor posture.

Read the full-length article: “Do your habits cause your neck pain?"

Also in the June 2016 issue of the Harvard Health Letter:

  • Five ways the Internet can help boost health
  • How stress affects seniors, and how to avoid it
  • What to know when taking multiple medications

The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/health or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

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Kristen Rapoza
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