Q: I have been spending a lot of time on the computer lately. I have noticed that my neck is really starting to bother me, and I am starting to get headaches as well. What exercises can I do to avoid these aches and pains?
A: This is a very common problem and one that is usually due to poor body positioning and/or weakness of the shoulder and neck muscles. Strong shoulders and upper back muscles actually help to take pressure off of the neck and help maintain the head and neck in an anatomically ideal position.
The first step in avoiding chronic neck pain involves assessing the position that you are in while at your desk or computer. The elbows should be at a 90 degree angle with the work station so your hands can work with minimal involvement of the arm muscles.
Next, is the position of the shoulders. Anything that causes you to round your shoulders forward will put excessive strain on the neck. If you find that your shoulders are rounding forward while you sit at work, here are 2 simple exercises that will help to counteract this posture:
1) The first exercise involves developing the latissimus dorsi muscles, which are located along the lower side ribs and mid back area. One way to strengthen these muscles is by performing an exercise that pulls weight against resistance from above your head, such as a Total Gym Lat Pull Down (see the exercise here). The idea is to train your shoulder muscles to be pulled down, away from your ears while at rest.
2) The second exercise involves recruiting your back muscles, including the rhomboids, teres major and minor, to help keep your shoulders back and down away from your ears. You can recruit these muscles by squeezing your shoulder blades together and holding that position for 30 seconds, or perform Pull-ups on Total Gym. Try this exercise by visiting http://www.totalgym.com/c-18-upright-prone.aspx and click on the “Pull-up” video.
If you do 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions of these exercises 3-4 days a week, that is all you need to develop healthy posture and avoid neck pain.
Find more Total Gym Back and Shoulder Exercises by visiting the NEW Exercises section of Total Gym.com at www.totalgym.com/exercises. You can search for exercises by Body Position here: http://www.totalgym.com/c-7-back.aspx.
Remember: Avoid any exercise that requires you to push weight up and over your head, which could develop your trapezius muscles that sit high up on your shoulders and can aggravate your neck pain.
In addition, any type of stretching, range of motion or yoga exercises can help to relax your neck as well to increase your flexibility. Of course, if you are not sure of the cause of your neck pain or headaches, or if you have weakness or numbness of your hands or arms, consult your doctor as there may be more to the issue than just neck strain.
In the meantime, continue to use your Total Gym, consulting with a personal trainer or physician along the way, to ensure you are doing the exercises properly.
Keep working hard at staying well and healthy!
Until next time,
Elizabeth Salada, MD
Dr. Salada is board certified in Internal Medicine and has been in practice in San Diego since 1996. She attended medical school at Wake Forest University where she received high honors in Family Practice and Internal Medicine. Her final training was obtained from Pennsylvania State University where she completed her residency in Internal Medicine. Visit Dr. Salada’s website for more information: http://elizabethsaladamd.com/.