A Little Studying Can Hurt a Lot

This common study posture can cause you a world of hurt

  School is back in session and that means it’s time to hit the books again.  For some of you that also means a return to headaches, stiff necks and sore backs.  It doesn’t even take pulling an all-nighter to develop these types of problems.  In fact study pains can set in after just 15-20 minutes of studying in a bad posture.

After 15 minutes of constant or repeated load on ligaments they will begin to deform and stretch.  Ligaments are the tissues that surround joints to stabilize them.  They keep you from experiencing a painful dislocation or losing function of a joint.  Ligaments have several types of nerves woven into them.  Some of these nerve send pain signals to the brain when a ligament becomes damaged or overstretched.  Other nerves measure the amount of tension in a ligament.  When these tissues become stretched out they can’t do their job of stabilizing joints well leaving the area at risk for a more serious injury.  This persistent overload of the ligaments is called a Postural Sprain.  For this 15-20 minutes of load, the ligaments need to be unloaded for about 25 minutes to return 50% of the way to its normal length.  As you can imagine, long study sessions in bad posture can cause a significant amount of stress which takes a long time to recover from.  But there is studying to be done every day.

When Postural Sprain occurs the nervous system fires the muscles surrounding the joint with stretched ligaments to help stabilize.  This is one of the reasons you will have tightness in the shoulders, neck and upper back if you spend a long time hunched over a laptop, book or paper.  Sometimes this tension won’t go away even after the ligaments have healed.  If muscles are overused this way they too will start to become stretched like the ligaments leading to Postural Strain. 

Even if the muscles do not become damaged, long-term tension associated with common studying postures can cause a condition called Upper Crossed Syndrome.  This condition can lead to chronic pain in the upper back, neck and chest.  Some people also experience more serious symptoms like numbness, tingling or weakness in the arms or hands and headaches.  Upper Crossed Syndrome is characterised by a posture where the shoulders are rounded, the head is held in front of the body and the upper back muscles are stretched out.  It is very common in people who spend a lot of time looking down or working with their arms outstretched.  Yes… students.

The good news is that it is both avoidable and treatable.  Here are some good suggestions to avoid developing Upper Crossed Syndrome:

  • Get your work up to eye level.  This may mean raising your computer monitor or putting your laptop on a stand or a stack of books rather than staring down at it for hours on end.  You may get a stand or prop up papers and books when you read.
  • Take frequent study breaks.  Stand up and reach your arms high up toward the ceiling.  Reach your arms behind you as far as they can go.  Put your arms on each side of a doorway or corner in the room and lean forward to stretch your chest muscles and relieve your upper back.
  • Keep your ears back in line with your shoulders.  Your neck is designed to hold your head with very little stress on your neck muscles and ligaments.  For every inch that your head is forward relative to your shoulders it is like adding 10 lbs to the weight of your head.
  • Strengthen your back muscles.  Bench press is overrated.  You need to exercise the upper back muscles with exercises like Lat Pulls and Seated Row.  For every chest exercise you do you should do 2-3 upper back exercises.

If you think you have Upper Crossed Syndrome or you’re experiencing headaches, pain or discomfort during or after a study session here are some effective treatment options to get you feeling your best again:

  • Massage Therapy.  A Licensed Massage Therapist is trained to detect and treat muscle imbalances like Upper Crossed Syndrome.  Massage feels great and has many advantages beyond just pain relief.  It can also be a great way to work out the day-to-day stress associated with being a student.
  • Physical Therapy.  Physical therapists work with people using manual therapy, physiotherapy and exercise to help strengthen weak muscle patterns and correct ergonomics. 
  • Chiropractic Care.  Chiropractors combine the approach of Massage and Physical Therapists with spinal adjustments to treat the muscles and joints.  It’s useful to provide fast, effective relief from problems associated with Upper Crossed Syndrome and regular treatment can help you prevent this problem as well.

If you have questions about Upper Crossed Syndrome or think that you may have this problem we can help you at Body of Health Chiropractic & Wellness Center (541) 753-1287.  Dr. Young can provide a free consultation in the clinic or over the phone.  Students get a special rate of $40 per treatment when they pay at the time of service.  Our Licensed Massage Therapists perform 60 minutes of massage for $40 for students.  We also can bill most types of insurance.  Don’t wait until to get this common but treatable problem under control.  Get in touch with us soon!

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