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by Emery Paredes, PT

Neck and shoulder pain have become the new low back pain. What I mean when I say that is in the past I would see 85% lower back patients and 15% neck, shoulder, knee and hip patients in my practice. The numbers are changing. I now see approximately 50% low back complaints, 40% neck and shouldercomputer_posture.jpg complaints and 20% knee and hip complaints.  The change we think is due to computer time.  What’s worse about neck and shoulder pain is the problems are a lot harder to resolve because of the time spent on computers both occupationally and recreationally. And the recent addition of cell phones becoming mobile computers only compounds an already serious issue.

The human frame has evolved over time and we may be entering a new phase of evolution because of the electronic craze. Slumped posture takes a very nasty toll on your spine, neck, shoulders, middle back and low back. Because these complaints are due primarily to postural faults and happen gradually over time reversing these issues takes an inordinate amount of time, effort and expense. So much so that the Canadian health system has discontinued paying for any form of back and neck pain treatment because it has become such a massive drain on their health care resources. American insurance carriers have over the last 5-10 years limited treatment for these ailments as well.

That means it’s up to you to develop a mindset of avoidance or suffer the inevitable consequences of your electronically induced occupation and recreational activities. The most time spent away from your electronics is while you sleep. So the second best opportunity to counter some of the effects of a slumped posture is in bed while you sleep.

neck_pain.jpgSleep is an essential part of life.  It is necessary for normal motor and cognitive functions.  However, often times, people complain of neck or back pain with sleeping.  Waking up with a neck or back pain after sleeping is annoying and the worst part is having it last throughout the day!  The kind of pillow and mattress that we use contributes to the pain and discomfort, much more the position of our body when we sleep has a great effect on the spine, muscles and ligaments.

Posture is defined as the position in which the body is held upright against gravity during sitting, standing, walking and lying down.  Good posture and spinal alignment is important not only when we sit, stand or walk but also when lying down.  Good posture is maintaining the body in positions where the least amount of strain is placed on the muscles and ligaments.

Here are my sleeping tips. These sleeping positions can help you recharge, feel well-rested and improve
your posture:

  1. Lie on relatively firm mattress and use proper pillow that will keep your neck supported through the night.  Mattresses last 5-7 years. In general the hardest mattress you find comfortable is the one that’s best for you. Pillows play a huge role in helping to maintain posture so it becomes a sound investment, even if it costs a few extra dollars.     


  2. If you sleep on your back, research studies recommend supporting the neck, lower back and  knees with pillows during sleep to achieve a better sleep posture. The pillow for your neck should not be so thick that it lifts your head up too high, or so thin that it tilts your head back. Orthopedic pillows havesleeping_neck_suopport.jpg been around for years and can help maintain a good head and neck position. Place a pillow under your knees to decrease the pressure or strain on your lower back.
  3. If you sleep on your side, you will still need pillows for support. To maintain your cervical spine in good alignment, use a pillow that keeps your head and neck parallel to the mattress. This maintains a neutral posture and assures good alignment.  To prevent strain on your lower back, place a support pillow between your knees and under your waist. The pillow used between your knees should be as wide as your clinched fist. By positioning your spine straight and your legs bent and parallel to each other, your body maintains good posture. This works by raising the lower back, assisting in alignment and preventing excessive rotation of the pelvis.
  4. Stomach sleeping is bad. Avoid sleeping on your stomach because it places the greatest degree of stress on your spine. Sleeping on your stomach forces your back to arch and your head to rotate to one side so you can breathe. This will cause strain in your back and neck. If you really prefer to sleep on your stomach, you may consider placing a back support pillow under your abdomen and pelvis to raise your lower back which helps maintaining your lumbar curve.  

Correct sleeping posture and spinal in alignment are the most important things you can do for your neck and back while at rest. Practicing sound sleeping positions will improve your posture and help avoid neck and back pain.  Pain is a warning sign. It is typically the last symptom to arise. When it happens do not ignore it, seek help. The sooner you begin correction the better your chances of avoiding the old age postural humps and pain that accompanies them.