Childhood Tech Neck Leads to Chronic Pain in Adulthood

No one likes seeing a child in pain. Most of us are disillusioned into thinking that children are so pliable that they can’t break bones, they can’t pull muscles, and they never run out of energy no matter what their diet. False, false and false.

I am the proud parent of three healthy, active boys, one who is 9 and twins who are 12. They love sports, and they don’t stretch enough. As a result, like many athletes, they have very tight hamstrings. The body is connected. If the hammies are tight, they pull on the low back, causing low back pain and tightness. My kids also like to play games on their devices, which puts abnormal strain on the back of the neck, creating what’s known as “tech neck.” This combination is the perfect storm that results in chronic pain as an adult.

Tech neck is the most common problem I see in teens and pre-teens. Kids are spending too much time in poor posture, seated with the shoulders hunched, ribcage collapsed, neck bent forward. It’s the posture for studying, drawing, writing, reading, and you know it — using devices. Some schools are even switching to using iPads full-time — something that makes my own spine shiver.

50 Lbs of Pressure

The average adult human head weighs between 10-13 lbs. The human spine is designed to handle this as long as the head is balanced nicely. If the head is leaning forward, it translates to more like 50 lbs of pressure on the neck. Most of us probably spend several hours each day in this head-bent-forward posture. This creates what’s called “upper crossed syndrome” or “forward head posture,” resulting in upper back and neck pain.

In many cases, these issues eventually cause a “straight neck,” which in turn causes headaches, backaches and shoulder pain. The neck should have a natural curve, and the head should be balanced on top, not tilted forward. People with straight necks tend to be permanently tilted forward. Imagine someone grabbing your head and pulling it directly up toward the ceiling. That is the first step to improved posture with the head balanced properly. Once a person has a straight neck, it’s difficult to put the curve back into it — it can be done, but requires lots of manual therapy, stretches and exercises.

If these forward-leaning head issues persist throughout childhood, in the future, the child becomes an adult with chronic neck problems. Tech neck causes poor posture in general which leads to all kinds of musculoskeletal problems like aches and pains, pinched nerves, breathing issues, digestion problems, lack of energy, anterior collapse of the torso and weight-bearing issues.

The big problem with tech neck in adults is the neck remains fixed for long periods of time in poor position. That causes the joints in the soft tissue structures to actually change and deform over time to fix the body in that position. We grow bone spurs, joints calcify, and muscles become rigid, some of which is irreversible. It’s called early degeneration, and it’s best to stop it before it starts.

Three Steps for Your Child

The solution to tech neck is three-fold. First, make your child aware of proper posture in the first place. If seated, sit up straight in an ergonomically correct chair with low-back support and hold the book or device up to eye level to read, resting the head against the high back of the chair or simply holding it up straight. You can put a pillow under the elbows to help hold the book or device up to eye level.

Second, have some tummy time. That’s right, just like a newborn. Flip over and lie on the bed or the ground, putting an arch in the low back and restoring the correct curve to the upper back and neck. While the child is in this position, have her do some Superman exercises, which strengthen the back and neck. Belly stays on the ground, while straight arms and legs lift for ten seconds. Repeat three times. Changing position is critical to keeping the spine happy. Switch back and forth frequently from seated to belly while reading, studying or texting.

Third, stretch! Teach your children some simple yoga stretches, like up-dog/down-dog, cat/cow, child’s pose/cobra. Find them online. These bend-and-flex spinal and hamstring stretches will align your child’s spine naturally and take pressure off nerves. Taking a break from studying or texting to run though a couple of yoga poses can prevent the headaches from settling in. A kid’s yoga mat only costs about $15 and they can unroll it anywhere to find relief.

Before Bed, Hang the Head

At bedtime, have your child lay down on the bed on her back with her head hanging off the edge. The weight of the head allows traction to pull the spinal column apart, allowing nerves to flow freely and restoring that important curve. It should feel very good. If it hurts, start slower with a small rolled towel under the neck while lying on the bed for about 15 minutes. After a few nights doing it that way, try hanging the head off the bed again.

Keeping a healthy spine and supporting the natural curves of the spine before smartphones and iPads was difficult, and now it’s much more challenging. If technology is going to be part of our lives, we need to learn to counter the negative effects. The majority of this can be accomplished on your own through the basic simple stretches and exercises I mentioned previously. However, if those stretches and exercises do not work, preventive therapy as early as possible can be successful.

Exercise to Heal Pain

A lot of adults try to address their pain and posture problems by working out major muscle groups, which is good. However, it is the small intricate muscles close to the spine that activate certain end-range muscle fibers and massage joint surfaces, increasing circulation and structural integrity at the skeletal level. Working the major muscle groups too much can actually inhibit the function of the smaller muscles. Optimally there should be a balance of focusing on major muscle groups as well as the smaller, more intricate muscles. Any kind of exercise is always extremely beneficial, however, regenerating cells and repairing the body in a way that can’t be denied.

The Bonacci Method of Regenerative Alignment

The Bonacci Method is a great tool for correcting posture in both children and adults, as well as in treating severe chronic and complicated pain patients. The same technique that Dr. Bonacci uses to get non-responsive injury and pain patients to respond to therapy, he uses to correct posture and prevent breakdown in the joints and muscles of the spine. If the body continues to break down, it puts pressure on nerves causing greater problems. This is degeneration, and it can be prevented.

Hit All Three Targets

If small corrective changes can be made to the nerves, soft tissue and joints, the body can experience relief of strain and pain, and restore motion and function.

If only one of these three elements is corrected, but the other two are not, it can shortly begin to disrupt the other two elements. In other words, if you adjust the joints of the spine, but the soft tissue and the nerve structures providing support and intelligence to the soft tissue remain problematic, the release will be short-lived. Discovering and applying this approach has led to the development of the Bonacci Method.

My traditional chiropractic training in combination with my certification in physical medicine modalities and therapeutic procedures is the foundation that allowed me to develop a manual therapy technique that effectively relieves pain, restores motion and strength, and promotes healing to injured areas. I am able to get patients that were previously non-responsive to chiropractic or physical therapy to respond by applying my method and restoring both global posture and the posture in the local area of concern.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Marc Bonacci is a chiropractic physician certified in physical medicine modalities and therapeutic procedures. For 18 years, his compassionate and creative approach to solving chronic pain issues has led him to develop a system in which he manually aligns nerves, muscles, connective tissue and joints to re-train the posture and allow healing. Learn more about The Bonacci Method of Regenerative Alignment.

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