Over the course of my career (now spanning more than 5 years and thousands of patients) I have made enough observations and seen enough patterns that I feel I can now write about some of them. This refers to the symptoms students most often come to see a chiropractor about. They include: neck and upper back pain, headaches and pain/numbness/tingling in the arms or hands. When asking these students questions, observing their behavior and with the experience of being a student myself for four years of college and 4 more years of graduate school I was able to notice a pattern that was a likely cause.
Typical American student posture
Most of you/us have been a student for a significant portion of our life at some point and whether it was high school, college, grad school or something else most all of us spent many hours with our heads buried in textbooks or going over notes. I can see it now, elbows on the desk or table, hunched over, head protruding forward like a vulture waiting to pounce, often for hours at a time as I and so many others crammed for what seemed like a never ending stream of tests (personal record was 17 tests over 7 days).
Inevitably this behavior would lead to 2 things:
- Hopefully an understanding of the material and a passing grade
- What I have come to call Student Posture Syndrome
My definition of Student Posture Syndrome is: a constellation of symptoms that is brought on by posture/actions which include long term forward head posture (common among studying students), rounded and/or hunched shoulders (also common among students) and stress (need I say more). Symptoms of Student Posture Syndrome include one or more of the following:
- Stiffness and aching of the neck and upper back
- Pain numbness or tingling of the arms or hands which is often worse when sleeping
- Headaches which are most commonly located at the base of the skull
The mechanism of this syndrome is both complicated and simple. Let me start with one basic postural principle: in order to maintain the lowest amount of stress on the joints and muscles of the neck and upper back the ears should be carried directly over the shoulders. For every inch forward of the shoulders the ears are it increases the strain on the joints and muscles of the neck by about 10 pounds. For instance, if the human head weighs 8 pounds (famously stated in the movie “Jerry Maguire”) and if the ears are 2 inches forward of the center of the shoulder that would increase the strain on the neck from 8 pounds to 28 pounds or about 3.5 times.
Who can forget this kid: “The human head weighs 8 pounds”
Without getting too technical this extra stress can cause interference on nerves and put pressure on blood vessels that lead from the neck to the head, arms and hands. Nerve interference can cause pain, numbness, tingling, weakness and muscle spasm. Pressure on blood vessels decreases blood flow and therefore oxygen. This decreased oxygen can cause pain in muscles, fatigue and, when it affects the brain, headaches.
While I am calling this Student Posture Syndrome it is does not affect only students. Anyone who spends significant time hunched forward with their head sticking out is susceptible to this. This includes:
- Dentists and dental hygienists
- Nursing moms
In the process of writing this I have realized that there is too much information to fit into one reasonable blog so this will topic will be concluded in our next blog update