You basically perform a retraction exercise to undo the cumulative effects of sitting with your chin poking too far forward for long periods of time. It is not uncommon in today’s world to spend prolonged periods in front of a computer screen at work, then our mobile phone in our breaks and commute and then sit in front of a TV screen or tablet at home.
All of these activities ‘pull’ us into an unnatural position…
This is what is commonly known as a ‘poking chin’ or ‘flexed neck’ or even ‘text neck’ posture.
This self-help post is part of the How To Untie Your Muscle Knots series of posts. Please follow the link back to that post to get more advice about what else you can do to get rid of pains and tightness in your upper back and neck.
Hunching over your keyboard is usually a sign that you have a tight chest and a weak upper back.
Over time, this type of posture can contribute to you developing a rounded upper back, which can cause shoulder and upper back stiffness.
When hunching over a computer, your head may tend to lean forward, which can lead to poor posture. Using a mobile can cause similar problems dubbed “text neck”.
How To Do The Exercise
Sit upright with a good spinal position.
What do I mean by this?
Try and sit with your lower back slightly arched as if you were making room to tuck the back of your hand behind your back. Don’t go too far though!
From this neutral position, place your fingers in front of your chin and then the movement is to gently move your head backwards to take your chin away from your fingers. Be careful not to tilt your head back as you do this. Tim explains this well in the video below. I always imagine it as ‘closing a drawer’ in a kitchen unit!
Should The Retraction Exercise Hurt?
You should stop the retraction (backwards sliding movement) before you feel any pain.
Upper Neck Flexion And Extension
In the video Tim talks about upper and lower cervical flexion and extension but what does he mean?
In the neck (cervical spine) flexion is a forward bending of the bones on top of each other and extension is the opposite.
Because of the shape of your neck (slight ‘S’ bend) the upper and lower spine can move in opposite directions! Look at the image below from musculoskeletalkey.com
When your chin is poking forwards (Diagram A) the upper spine is in extension (blue curve) and the lower in flexion (red curve).
If you perform the retraction exercise then the opposite is true: upper flexion, lower extension. This position helps to alleviate the cumulative stress of position A.
Discs In The Neck
Tim talks about the stress on the discs due to the flexed position of the neck and here is an MRI of a neck from the Mayfield Clinic with bulging discs at C5 and C6 (arrowed).
An MRI shows the soft tissues in the neck like the discs and the spinal cord and nerves and even to the untrained eye, you can clearly see the backward bulging of the discs which would almost certainly cause pain and or tingling/weakness in the arm(s).
If you have any pain in your arm or perhaps tingling in your fingers then please contact me before trying this exercise.
Either phone me on 07980 898414 or use the Facebook Messenger link at the bottom of the page.
I am happy to give you advice on what to do next.
How often should I do this Retraction Exercise?
If you are sitting a lot at work or at home then perhaps consider doing this simple exercise a few times every hour.
In this video, Tim Keely explains about posture and how it can give you upper neck pain and even headaches and what you can do about correcting the effects of prolonged ‘poking chin’ posture.
Knots are tender or painful to the touch. They feel like bumps—or knots!—beneath the skin. They range from the size of a pinhead to the size of a thumb. Some muscle knots only hurt when you apply pressure to them, but others cause pain or tension without being touched.
Muscle Knots In The Neck
Here is a clever animation from Wikipedia showing one of the favourite sites for ‘knots’ in the muscles – the Trapezius Muscle.
What’s more important is:-
What Can You Do About Muscle Knots?
There are many suggestions as to what to try to ease muscle knots
Hydration – drinking plenty of water helps to keep you well hydrated. This prevents any chemical imbalances in the muscle.
Take breaks – typically we spend a lot of or day sitting in front of a computer or TV. A new pastime for many is staring down at our phones. Take regular breaks and straighten out your back, turn your neck from side to side. If necessary set a reminder on your phone or computer!
Exercise – regular exercise is important. Especially gentle neck exercises that mobilise your neck and undo the effects of prolonged sitting. These are safe as long as they are not aggravating your problem.
Massage– self-massage for your back is possible and can help keep your muscles healthy, pliable, and oxygenated.
Relaxation– if you suffer from stress then this can easily contribute to knots so why not experiment with some form of relaxation program
Sleep– lack of sleep is a common symptom of modern life and is implicated in knots formation. Try going to bed a little earlier and no electronic devices in bed!
Water is essential for life and it is very important to get the right amount of fluid to be healthy. However there are lots of mixed messages about how much, and what to drink and this can be confusing. Do I really need to drink 6-8 glasses of water on top of all my other drinks? Is it true that tea and coffee do not count towards my fluid intake? The answer to both these questions is no! The BNF ‘healthy hydration guide’ can help you choose a healthy balance of drinks.
This page also looks at why fluid is important, the effects of different drinks on health, and the needs of particular groups of people in the population. The information here is generally for healthy adults.
Why do you need water? Your body is nearly two-thirds water and so it is really important that you consume enough fluid to stay hydrated and healthy. If you don’t get enough fluid you may feel tired, get headaches and not perform at your best. ‘Fluid’ includes not only water from the tap or in a bottle, but also other drinks that give you water such as tea, coffee, milk, fruit juices and soft drinks. You also get water from the food you eat – on average food provides about 20% of your total fluid intake.How much do you need? The amount of fluid you need depends on many things including the weather, how much physical activity you do and your age, but the Eatwell Guide suggest 6-8 glasses of fluid per day. This is on top of the water provided by food you eat. You can get water from nearly all fluid that you drink, apart from stronger alcoholic drinks such as wine and spirits.
Design in breaks: move the printer away from your desk so that you have to get up to retrieve your documents.
Habits: drinking lots of water is healthy and means you will need to leave your desk often for comfort breaks.
Associative breaks: associate a break or change in posture with tasks that you undertake regularly. For example stand up when taking phone calls (as long as you won’t need to refer to your PC during the call).
Set reminders on your PC; most computer diary applications such as Lotus Notes or Outlook offer a reminder facility.
Use breaking software. This is specially designed software that reminds you to break in a number of different ways. Some of these programmes can be downloaded free from the internet. Always check with your employer first before downloading such software.
Task rotation: if you conduct a number of different tasks, break them up into shorter periods and alternate them. If you complete purchase orders by hand and then enter them into the PC, for example, don’t do all the handwriting and then all the inputting at once. Instead, do a few orders by hand and then enter them into the PC.
Exercise and Self-Massage
These are dealt with below in the Videos Section at the end.
Harvard Health has published a quick guide to relaxation techniques at work when you have on a minute or so…
When you’ve got one minute
Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.
Or alternatively, while sitting comfortably, take a few slow deep breaths and quietly repeat to yourself “I am” as you breathe in and “at peace” as you breathe out. Repeat slowly two or three times. Then feel your entire body relax into the support of your chair.
When you’ve got two minutes
Count down slowly from 10 to 0. With each number, take one complete breath, inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in deeply, saying “10” to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breath, say “nine”, and so on. If you feel lightheaded, count down more slowly to space your breaths further apart. When you reach zero, you should feel more relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.
Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy.
If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.
Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet.
Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
What If None Of This Helps your Muscle Knots?
If you have been suffering from muscle knots or pain for a while, coming to see a physio (me?) is the next logical step. When you come to see me I will thoroughly assess you to identify the underlying causes. I will look at your posture, your movements and biomechanics. We will discuss your lifestyle and habits that may be contributing factors.
After all this, I will suggest a treatment plan for dealing with your problem. The treatment plan may include:
Consisting of soft tissue massage of the surrounding area and perhaps some more localised deep massage to the ‘knots’.
Gentle stretching movements to take you through your full range of available motion and then a little bit further. I will give you advice on the correct stretches and how to do it yourself. It is possible to over-stretch through lack of knowledge, and just because a muscle is hurting, doesn’t mean it needs to be stretched – sometimes the opposite is true!
Acupuncture / Dry-needling
Acupuncture, or it’s derivative dry-needling, can get right to the centre of the ‘muscle-knot’ and let it begin to relax. Some relief should be experienced in only a single treatment, but addressing the cause of the knot is also required.
If you would like professional advice before you decide on your treatment, please leave a comment below or direct message me on Facebook using the link at the bottom of the page. Alternatively, you may call or text me on 07980 898414