I love my kids but they’ve ruined my neck

Steve Calechman

Contributor

I recently wrote about how my oldest son learned how to ride a bike. His excitement got me to buy a used one, mostly because running after him down the street wasn’t going to be a solid long-range plan. Now, Milo and I get to explore on two wheels. We discovered a pond with ducks not far from the house and we’ve met a lot more people in the neighborhood, mostly ones who own dogs.

It’s also been a great way to show him what I want him to do on the bike — stay to the side of the road, wait until cars stop before you cross, and look behind you to see …

Maybe not that one. I once had that easy range of motion, but it’s gone, and I blame Milo and his younger brother Levi. I love them, but they’ve destroyed my neck. They’ve also destroyed my lower back, sleep rhythms, and knowledge of current events. But right now, it’s about the neck, and they’re not going to smile their way out of it. For six years, I’ve been constantly looking down, to read to them, to answer their questions, to hold them until I fall asleep in chairs with them.

Again, all their fault. Or maybe not completely.

Vijay Dayanani is a physical therapist at Harvard Medical School-affiliated Spaulding Outpatient Center and says the main culprit is technology. Laptops, iPads, and cell phones have created a looking-down culture, bringing the neck out of its ideal neutral position and perpetually stressing the muscles to where they eventually lock up. Parenting just compounds the problem by offering no break from the bad mechanics. More than that, Dayanani predicts that he’ll be treating a lot more neck arthritis in the future. Same goes for the fingers, particularly thumbs, from the incessant texting.

So what’s needed is some adapting, wherever it can be found. Here’s how, he says:

Awareness. It’s basic, but it’s easy to not think about how you’re holding your body. With parenting, it’s even easier to forget to simply look up every once in a while. Ultimately, the more that can be done at eye level, the better. Having any kind of screen at a comfortable height will help; adjusting your work computer will help even more. When you’re standing, check in to where your pelvis is. You want to make sure to slightly rotate it forward, which will maintain the curve in your lower spine and automatically bring up the top of your body.

Give your eyes a target. Put any picture that you love on the wall opposite your desk. It might be a little gimmicky, but anything that will cause you to look straight ahead for a few seconds will give the neck muscles a chance to rest and unwind. Along with that …

Keep a bottle of water on your desk. And drink it. It’s good to get up and move around once every hour. You could set a reminder on your phone, but you also have to remember to do that. Even if you did, deadlines can cause tunnel vision, but having to go to the bathroom is a hard one to ignore.

Check your pillow support. It should fill the space from your shoulder to your ear to keep your neck properly aligned. A simple test: while lying on your side, open your eyes. You should be looking straight ahead and your head should be level.

Work your mid-back. They’re key postural muscles. Do lat pulldowns or seated rows — a pull versus a push exercise will make it less likely to round your back.

Use hot and cold. Ice and heat are classics for a reason: they help. For anything acute and severe, ice every hour for 10 minutes for up to 72 hours. For anything else, it’s whichever temperature you prefer, once in the morning, at noon, and at night for 15 minutes each time.

Comments:

  1. Lavon

    Get an.MRI. You are very strange in blaming your children. That’s awful!!- You probably had a neck injury sometime in.your life. Get it evaluated.

  2. Nitin Sewduth

    I have banned the use of pillows for me and my younger son borned after this ban. He is now nearly 19 yrs and have never used any pillow. Unfortunately i could not impose it on my wife and my elder son because they were used to a pillow and never suffered any neck problem. I sincerely believe that new born should not be initiated to the use of pillow.

  3. Jackie Chubb

    You could buy a resistance band and fix it to something high and do a pulldown. Or put it around a door handle to do the seated row – or hook it over your feet. Make sure it is securely fastened otherwise it’ll sting if it pings off!!!

  4. Marie Garcia

    You are blessed to have children…they are a “gift from God”. As parents, we a have challeges everyday. Years from now, you do not want your adult children to think they were the cause of your emotional or physical pain. Remember..to count your blessings..always. Mother of four, two in “little Angels” in Heaven.

  5. Wendy

    I have two kids and a computer based job and you’re right, my neck is ruined. It started with breast-feeding and has just continued from there. These are great tips though and I’ll definitely be trying them out.

  6. El Brocko

    I learned this from a chiropractor many years ago and I find it’s very helpful. Roll up a towel to about a 4 inch diameter. I guess the diameter could differ based on your size. Lie flat on your back and place the towel at the base of your neck where it joins your shoulders. Lie this way for 10 to 20 minutes, frequently, based on the level of your pain. I often take a 20-minute nap in the middle of the day this way.

  7. azure

    “Do lat pulldowns or seated rows ” might be helpful if these were defined and described, I have no idea what kind of exercise the author is describing.

    • Steve Calechman

      That’s a great point, and it’s difficult to describe an exercise in writing, even for someone who’s comfortable in the gym. For someone who’s unfamiliar with the terminology, the best thing is to work with a personal trainer who can show proper form and then observe you. – Steve

    • Julie

      You need gym equipment to do these: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WHI4YnXUpM
      I wonder what good alternatives there are if you don’t belong to a gym?

      • alexis jones

        Julie, assuming you cannot do a chin up (I can’t either, like most), install a chin up bar in a doorway, fairly simple. Get a low stool which enables you to hold the bar , palms forward, with your chin even with bar. Now step off the stool and slowly lower your body from the chinup position to where your arms are straight above your head. Step back on the stool and repeat. You will build strength in your latissimus muscles — it’s just the second part of or a reverse chinup. For the rowing exercises w/o an exercise machine, sit on the floor with your back vertical or in a chair or stand — use an exercise stretch band hooked around an immovable object, or your feet. Pull the band towards you as if you were rowing a boat. Important to feel your scapulas tighen together, as in trying to hold something between them. Hope this helps.

    • alexis jones

      azure —- see response below to Julie. Both exercises are described.