Repetitive activities, such as texting or sitting hunched over your laptop or books for hours, are among the biggest causes of upper and lower back pain.
Bending forward warps spinal alignment and over time, causes muscle tightness and damage to the cartilage and vertebrae, triggering stiffness and pain.
“What people describe as spondylosis is often arthritis caused by a combination of factors, including age-related degeneration, obesity and in young people, bad posture,” says Dr Yash Gulati, senior spine and joint replacement surgeon, Apollo Hospital, New Delhi. “People spend too much time sitting hunched over a smartphone instead of standing and moving around, which not only adds to the pressure on the spine but also causes weight gain.”
The human head weighs about 5 kg, but hunching and bending forward increases the weight on your spine substantially. Bending your head just 15 degrees forward — when you’re texting or reading, for example — doubles the weight supported by the spine, taking it up from 5kg to 10 kg. “It’s like carrying a sack of potatoes around on your neck for several hours a day!” says Dr Gulati.
Agrees Kalpana Aggarwal, chief of physiotherapy, bone and joint institute at Fortis Escorts, New Delhi: “In the short term, the repetitive stress injury causes muscular stiffness and soreness, but over time, it may cause spinal injury and degeneration.”
If untreated, collapsed cartridges and vertebrae put pressure on the nerves in the spinal column to cause radiating pain and weakness in the arms or legs. “With smartphone, laptop and computer overuse, a decade from now, we are looking at a generation in their 30s with chronic spine-related injury issues because of bad postures,” says Aggarwal.
“You can treat the damage in the initial stages by improving your posture and losing weight to lowering pressure on the vertebrae and exercising to build muscles to support the spine,” says Dr Gulati.
Improving your posture — the way you hold your body while standing, sitting, texting, gaming, lifting, bending, or reaching — can help balance and correctly align the spinal curve to take the pressure off the vertebrae.
Exercises called isometrics — alternating series of isolated muscle flexes and relaxation — are used to strengthen muscle groups without adding stress on the bones and cartridges.
“Early intervention can help reverse damage and protect the spine from further injury, so you should seek treatment at the first signs of pain. If the pain is chronic, the damage may be irreversible,” says Aggarwal.
Shoulder squeeze. Sit up straight in bench or low-back chair with your hands on your thighs and your shoulder straight. Slowly draw your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for a count of five, relax. Repeat six times.
Upper-body stretch. Stand facing a corner with your elbows at shoulder level, arms raised and hands flat against the walls. Place one foot ahead of the other. Bend your forward knee and exhale as you lean towards the corner keeping your back straight and your head up. Hold for 30 seconds, relax. Repeat six times.
Arm stretch. Raise your right arm in front of you parallel to the floor and bend the elbow to touch your right shoulder. Hold the right elbow with your left hand and gently fold it across your chest to stretch the upper arm and right shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, relax. Repeat for the other side. Do three repetitions for each side.
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