Santa's sacks

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

At a time when so many of my patients have already made their Christmas cakes and I am still wondering what happened to spring I thought it would be a good time to talk about those heavy carrier bags and what they have to do with neck and back pain.

It is not obvious that any weight we carry through our arms affects our necks and our lower backs. The nerves that exit the segments of our spine are subject to the concertina compression that any load places on our backs. Consider a 25 story block of flats and the weight that ultimately bears down onto the ground floor.

The bony ridge along the base of the skull is the attachment point for many powerful muscles. The problem is, when these muscles contract to stop your shoulders subsiding under the weight of your fairy lights, the bones of the neck are sandwiched in between, occasionally leading to neck pain, muscular spasm and perhaps the resulting pins and needles in your hands. A young patient came into my clinic with pain in the right side of her neck and down the left side of her back. Why? As with so many young people, she was carrying piles of school books in a bag over her right shoulder. Her spine was trying to manage the weight whilst the muscles in the left side of her back were working too hard in keeping her upright.

Other than when lifting, our neck muscles also work hard when our heads are tilted forwards using our phones, reading in bed and most commonly, when using a computer. If you do read in bed or use your tablet, you could try bending your knees a little and use a folded pillow in your lap so your head is less inclined. Given that the average head weighs approximately 11.5 pounds (the heaviest bowling ball is only 16 pounds), is it any wonder that whiplash can produce so many problems for the neck with this bowling ball perched on top!

There is of course, another major culprit of neck and shoulder pain that is much harder to manage. The pressure of caring for everyone’s needs at this time of year, can create tremendous tension and out pouring of energy.

So next time you go shopping, give your back and your neck an early Christmas present and try to avoid too many heavy bags in one go unless you plan to go with a wheelbarrow!