Dr. Jeffrey I. Kennis,  D.C.
205 Commercial St.
Boston, MA 02109
NORTH END

( 617)720-2329


 

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How you set up and use your laptop can affect the amount of stress placed on your neck and back. Here are 10 ideas for keeping your spine pain-free while being productive on a laptop.


1. Take the laptop off your lap

Even though it’s called a laptop, you may not want to use it on top of your lap.

This position often requires you to slouch down and jut your head forward to see the screen, loading your cervical spine with dozens of extra pounds of pressure.1 If you do need to work without a desk—while on a train, for example—try propping the laptop on your computer bag or briefcase to elevate the screen.


2. Raise the screen higher

The ideal laptop height and angle lets you view the screen easily without bending or rotating your neck. Elevate the laptop a few inches above your desk, placing it on a stable support surface, such as a laptop stand or a stack of thick books. Your eyes should naturally hit the top third of your screen when you look straight ahead.


3. Use a separate keyboard and mouse or invest in a separate screen/monitor

When you work on a laptop for an extended period of time, it is recommended to do one of two things: 1) Use an external keyboard and mouse and properly position your laptop screen at eye level or 2) Use an external monitor at eye level and position your laptop keyboard at a height that allows your shoulders and arms to relax. Your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle, tucked close to your body, and your wrists should be in a neutral position when typing. This posture helps keep you from rounding your shoulders and pulling your neck muscles.


4. Upgrade screen size

While laptops are designed to be portable and easy-to-use, be sure that your laptop’s screen is big enough for your needs. A smaller screen may cause you to strain to see text and objects. If you find yourself hunching forward to read from your screen, you can also increase the font size.


5. Put your feet up

If you have to raise your chair to position your arms and wrists comfortably, check to see how your legs are angled. Your feet should be flat on the floor, and your knees should be at an even height with your hips. If your hips are too high or your feet don’t reach the floor, use a step or block to support the bottom of your feet. This can help you maintain a neutral lumbar spine and reduce strain on your lower back.


6. Find an ergonomic chair

The type of chair you sit in while using your laptop is critical. Any office chair that is fully adjustable and has lumbar support may work, but you need to be sure to set it up correctly. If your chair does not have adequate support, you may need a lumbar roll. Remember to sit all the way back in the chair so when you rest against it, the lumbar support is helping to maintain the natural curve in your lower back. As for your neck and head position, your ears should always be above your shoulders, not in front.


7. Take breaks

Set a reminder on your phone to take a brief break every half hour or so. Get your eyes off the screen and let them rest on something in the distance. You can do simple stretches at your desk, such as stretching your neck, shoulders, arms, and legs. Every hour, leave your desk to walk around to get your blood flowing and muscles loose. If it is not possible to walk, at least stand, stretch and move. Humans are mobile beings and not meant to sit still all day.


8. Stand up

For people who spend long hours working on laptops, try to spend an hour or two each day using your laptop while standing rather than sitting in a chair. You will need a separate keyboard and mouse and a multilevel setup to do this without straining your neck. Standing desks are popular options. Desktop converters enable you to keep your desk and temporarily convert it to a standup desk.


9. Travel light

If you typically lug your laptop between work and home, purchase a duplicate power cord and other laptop accessories—that way you can leave them in each place instead of carrying the extra load back and forth. You may also want to use a backpack with dual-padded shoulder straps to avoid draping the bag over just one shoulder. If your laptop and accessories feel too heavy, a roll-along carrier may be the best choice.


10. Consider a posture app

Turn technology in your favor by using your laptop to monitor your posture and give you helpful reminders. Many posture apps are available for Mac and PC that can perform various functions, including:

  • Use your laptop camera to monitor your posture and alert you when to sit up straighter.
  • Remind you when to take breaks.
  • Guide you through simple stretches and exercises at your desk.

Wearable devices are also available to measure your spinal posture and send the data to an app on your phone or tablet. While some people may find benefits from posture apps and wearable devices, it is important to note that some people may not and more research is needed to determine their effectiveness.

Pay attention to how you set up your laptop. Careful consideration goes a long way to easing and preventing back and neck pain.

There are a wide variety of natural remedies to soothe your back, which can help reduce the intake of medications or provide an added benefit to your existing medical treatment.

Take a look at these natural pain-relieving strategies and find out what works best for you:

Read on to learn more about effective pain-relieving strategies for chronic back pain from natural methods.


1. Enjoy an anti-inflammatory drink every day

When you consume anti-inflammatory foods regularly, several antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-cancer agents can build up in your blood. Over a period of time, these potent agents can play a significant role in reducing and/or eliminating inflammatory reactions in the body.

Consuming these healthy drinks on a regular basis may help reduce your back pain.

  • Turmeric milk - Turmeric, an Asian spice, contains antioxidant, anti-arthritic, and anti-inflammatory properties. An easy method to consume turmeric is to mix a small quantity (1/2 teaspoon) of turmeric powder in a glass of warm milk. You can add honey or stevia to the milk if you prefer a sweet taste. Consume this drink, preferably just before bedtime to allow the anti-inflammatory process to work while you sleep. Consuming dairy products may increase inflammation in some people. In such cases, trying plant-based milk, such as almond milk can be helpful.
  • Tart cherry juice - Cherries are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. Cherry juice can help relieve muscle pain, which may be chronic or exercise-induced. Cherry juice is easily available to buy at grocery stores and commonly contains the tart cherry extract. Try drinking a glass of cherry juice on a daily basis and see if it has positive effects in relieving your back pain.
  • Ginger-green tea - You can also try infused-herbal drinks, such as ginger-green tea, which contains the pain-relieving benefits of both green tea and ginger. Ginger-green tea bags can be purchased from grocery stores and you can easily enjoy a cup either at work or at home. Over a period of time, these anti-inflammatory agents can build up in your bloodstream, so including these drinks in your daily diet will help reduce overall inflammation and prevent new inflammatory pain.

2. Fall asleep faster and sleep longer

When you have a restful night’s sleep, your back will feel less sore during the day. A night of restorative sleep can have healing benefits and make you feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and less stressed.

Try these natural sleep aids, one at a time, to see which one works best for you:

  • Vitamins C and B6 - The natural steroids in your body control your metabolism and promote good sleep. Supplements of vitamins C and B6 are known to help the body produce and regulate natural steroid hormones.
  • Melatonin - Your natural sleep hormone, melatonin can be taken as a supplement to improve your sleep cycle.
  • L-theanine - An amino acid found in tea leaves, L-theanine may help some people feel relaxed and get better sleep.
  • Valerian - Supplements made from the root of the valerian plant may help you sleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Another option is cherry juice or cherry extracts—cherries contain certain enzymes that help promote better sleep.


3. Avoid prolonged static posture

It is important to pay attention to the joints and muscles of your spine and hip. Prevent fatigue and stresses on these joints by following simple tips, such as:

  • Avoid excessive sitting - or consider using a standing desk while you work. When you sit for a long duration, the pressure on your spinal discs increase. Aim to get up every hour and walk a short distance to take the load off your discs.
  • Check your posture - and adjust your neck, shoulder, and back alignment to prevent stresses on your spine. Poor, unsupported posture can lead to several problems in your back, causing or increasing the pain.
  • Rotate activities - in order to avoid the same set of muscles and joints from getting over-fatigued. For example, if you have been standing and working for some time, consider changing to a different activity where you can sit down. You can go back to standing once the muscles and joints have had a chance to relax.

When you have a flare-up of symptoms, consider less exertive activities, such as reading a book, listening to music, or crafting. These activities can help divert your mind from the pain and let your back rest at the same time.


4. Gently stretch your joints and soft tissues through yoga

Yoga is an effective way to stretch your back, improve the health of muscles and joints, enhance distribution of healing nutrients through blood circulation, and increase the flexibility of the spine.

When you start, perform the stretches slowly and advance only if you feel comfortable without pain. Gradually, you will be able to add more stretches to your routine. An ideal time for yoga is early morning—to help loosen your spine and also reduce stiffness and aches in your back.


5. Try mindful meditation

Meditation is a great way to improve concentration, release feel-good hormones (endorphins), and decrease anxiety and stress. Through mindful meditation, you can control the way your body perceives pain

Find a quiet, dark room and meditate for 5 to 10 minutes in the morning. You can also try meditating before bedtime or while you take a break at work. If you don’t like to meditate, try simple breathing exercises—take 10 deep, slow breaths in a row.


6. Support your body in a warm pool

The buoyancy of the water lets you enjoy the benefits of exercise with less pain. Exercising in water also helps regulate the functioning of nerves and muscles, relieving pain.

If you prefer warmer pools, look into water exercise classes and hydrotherapy pools. Water therapy exercises are often done in water that is about 83 degrees to 88 degrees. Hydrotherapy pool temperatures are often more than 90 degrees.


7. Keep a self-activating heat patch handy

Heat patches that activate when in contact with the body are a great tool to carry during long drives or keep in your office desk/bedside table drawer. These heat patches activate quickly, can be worn inside your clothing, and provide a continuous supply of heat to relieve your back pain. Follow the package instructions and avoid wearing the patch for long durations to prevent skin damage. Some heat patches are also infused with medications for more effective pain relief.

A pulled muscle in your lower back can send intense flareups of pain, spasm, and stiffness, causing many people to end up in the emergency room. When this injury happens, it’s smart to know what you can do to immediately and effectively bring down the pain to a tolerable level while also helping your body heal.

Muscle Strain

Pulling (also referred to as tearing or over-stretching) a lower back muscle can lead to muscle spasms. See Lower Back Strain Video

As a general guideline, rest during the initial day or two after your injury, moving slowly and gently to allow your muscle tissue to recover and begin the regeneration process. You may use a back brace intermittently for additional stability.1,2

Below you will find effective treatments that you can employ at home to soothe your muscle soreness.

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Use cold first, then switch to heat therapy

During the initial few days after the strain injury, your muscle tissues begin to repair. The healing process causes inflammation to occur within the healing muscle fibers. The use of cold and heat therapy can help reduce inflammation in the following ways:

  • Cold therapy is surprisingly effective in reducing pain, muscle spasm, swelling, and inflammation.1,3,4 An ice pack, ice cubes wrapped in a towel, or a bag of frozen vegetables can be used to cool down your muscle fibers.

    See Ice Massage for Back Pain Relief

  • Heat therapy serves to facilitate blood, oxygen, and nutrient flow into your muscle fibers to promote healing, recovery, and pain relief.3 A hot water bottle or heat pack can be used to deliver heat to your muscles. Low-level continuous heat is another option, such as from an adhesive heat wrap.

    See Benefits of Heat Therapy for Lower Back Pain

It is best to use cold therapy during the initial day or two after your injury followed by heat therapy. Avoid using cold therapy for too long, because excessive cooling may slow down the natural healing process of the muscle tissue.1,3,4

See How to Apply Heat Therapy

It is important to use heat and cold as tolerated, intermittently for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and with a 2-hour break in between—to avoid skin and/or nerve damage. Heat therapy can be used for longer, provided the heat is a low-level, such as with a commercial heat wrap.

Massage your lower back

Massaging by gently stroking or kneading your lower back can help promote blood flow, relax your sore muscles, relieve stiffness,5 and spur the release of endorphins—your body’s natural pain-fighting hormone.

If you’re unable to visit a massage therapist, physical therapist, or other qualified health professional, try a DIY massage by securing two tennis balls with duct tape and placing them between your chair and lower back. Gently move your back from side-to-side to enable kneading of the sore muscles as they come in contact with the secured tennis balls.

See Massage Therapy for Lower Back Pain

Take a natural muscle relaxant

Muscle relaxants can be effective in relieving muscle pain by decreasing spasms. Effective natural muscle relaxants include extracts of:

  • Tart cherry
  • Chamomile
  • Valerian
  • Peppermint
  • Curcumin (turmeric)

Valerian and chamomile also help promote good sleep, so it’s a good idea to use them before bedtime. Many of these natural options have powerful anti-inflammatory and healing properties as well, so taking them provides additional benefits.6 Supplements of magnesium may also help relieve muscle spasms.

Natural muscle relaxants are typically safe and commonly consumed in the form of supplements or tea. If you opt for prescription muscle relaxants, such as baclofen, benzodiazepines, cyclobenzaprine, or carisoprodol, they have a potential for substantial side effects, risks, and a possibility for misuse or abuse.

See Side Effects and Risks of Muscle Relaxers

Perform gentle stretches

Returning to normal activity after an initial period of relative rest is crucial for the repair of your muscle tissue. In addition to performing your routine activities, gently stretch the muscle a few times during the day to help elongate and strengthen the tissues, and promote healing.7 Simple stretches for your lower back can be done at home or while at work. Be sure to stretch as tolerated and avoid high-intensity exercises, which may cause further damage to your muscle tissue.

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Incorporating stretching exercises as a part of your normal routine can help strengthen and stabilize your lower back, reducing the risk of muscle strains and other injuries in the future. For many, it’s best to learn a stretching exercise with the guidance of a physical therapist, chiropractor, physiatrist, or other qualified health professional.

See Stretching for Back Pain Relief

Try these therapies to see what works best for the pain in your pulled lower back muscle. You may need to combine 2 or more methods a few times per day to alleviate your lower back pain. If your back-muscle pain persists for several weeks, worsens over time, or spreads into your leg(s), consult a doctor for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis.

Learn more:

Pulled Back Muscle and Lower Back Strain

Pulled Back Muscle Treatment

We’ve all experienced a neck strain when muscles become overstretched and painful, such as from overuse, sitting with poor posture, or sleeping with your neck in an awkward position. While a simple strain can cause sharp pain and a stiff neck that limits activities, it usually feels better within a few days. But what if neck pain is the result of a more serious underlying condition that doesn’t heal on its own? Here are a few ways to tell the difference.

Animated video still highlighting neck muscles

A neck sprain or strain occurs when there an injury to the soft tissues of the neck.
Watch:
 Neck Strains and Sprains Video

Pain for days vs. pain for weeks

Distinguishing between pain caused by a strain and by a more serious condition can be tricky. Neck strains and cervical spine disorders, such as degenerative disc disease or osteoarthritis, are all capable of causing neck pain that ranges from dull and mild to severe and debilitating.

One key factor to note is how long the pain has lasted. Most neck strains start to feel much better within a few days or a couple of weeks. Underlying cervical spine disorders tend to cause pain that lasts longer than a few weeks, comes and goes, and may gradually become worse.

See Chronic Neck Pain Causes

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Local vs. radiating pain

The location or movement of the pain can also be a distinguishing factor between a neck strain or an underlying cervical spine condition.

Neck strain pain is mostly felt on the site of the damaged soft tissues. Occasionally, the pain may be referred further up the neck or down to the top of the shoulders. But for the most part, neck strain pain stays local.

Pain from a cervical spine condition, however, can potentially radiate down the arm and even into the hand. This radicular pain occurs due to a spinal nerve root that has become compressed or inflamed, such as from foraminal stenosis or a herniated disc. When nerve root compression results in neurological deficits, such as numbness or weakness, it is called radiculopathy.

See What Is Cervical Radiculopathy?

Radicular pain that goes into the arm may feel searing or shock-like, or it could feel achy or tingly. While radicular pain is usually felt on just one side of the body, it can occur on both sides.

See Radiculopathy, Radiculitis and Radicular Pain

Repeatable Neck Cracking

Most neck cracking and grinding sounds are normal and do not indicate any type of problem. When specific neck movements always result in a cracking or grinding sound, that could indicate bone on bone grinding and may be more serious. For example, if rotating your head to the left always produces a clicking or grinding sound, an injury or chronic condition such as osteoarthritis may be the cause.

See Causes of Neck Cracking and Grinding Sounds

When to See a Doctor for Neck Pain

Most neck strains can be treated with rest and self-care, such as ice therapy, heat therapy, gentle stretching, massage, or over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen).

  • For neck pain that does not improve within a couple of weeks, visit your doctor.
  • If your neck pain resulted from a major collision or is accompanied by troubling signs and symptoms, such as radiating pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness that goes into the arm, see your doctor sooner rather than waiting.
  • A stiff neck accompanied by headache and/or fever could indicate meningitis, which is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention.

    See When Neck Stiffness May Mean Meningitis

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Knowing the difference between pain from a simple neck strain and a serious injury can help you seek prompt treatment and avoid potential complications. Whenever in doubt, see a qualified health professional for an accurate diagnosis of your neck pain.

See Diagnosing Neck Pain

Learn more:

Neck Strain Treatments and Prevention

Treatment for Neck Pain

Pain in the upper and/or middle back can be quite limiting and interfere with daily activities. To help alleviate this pain, consider stretching and strengthening the muscles that support your thoracic spine (upper and mid back). Here are 5 common exercises to try.

See Early Treatments for Upper Back Pain

Press-up exercise

This press-up or back extension exercise targets your back extensor muscles, which are attached to the back of your spine.

Image of person doing press up exercise for sciatica pain relief
  1. Lie on the stomach with your hands under your shoulders.
  2. Raise your upper body onto your elbows while keeping both forearms and hips relaxed on the ground. Breathe out and allow your chest to sink toward the ground. You should feel a comfortable stretch in your mid back.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds, then slowly return to the floor.
  4. Aim to complete 10 repetitions. Gradually build to hold the position for 30 seconds.

A more advanced Step 2 involves raising your upper body onto your hands (rather than forearms) while still keeping both hips relaxed on the ground. In yoga, this is called the cobra pose.

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Cat-cow pose

The cat-cow pose is a gentle stretch that can help ease the pain in your middle back.

Image of person doing the cat cow yoga pose for middle and upper back pain
  1. Get down on all fours with knees and hands on the floor. The back and neck should be in a neutral, straight position.
  2. Slowly tighten lower abdominals, rounding the back towards the ceiling and tucking your chin. You should feel a stretch along your spine.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Release and return to neutral position.
  5. Slowly lift your head, chest and tailbone toward the ceiling, letting your spine and stomach sink toward the ground. This should also produce a comfortable stretch in your spine.
  6. Hold for 5 seconds.
  7. Release and return to neutral position.

Alternate between the two poses.

Opposite arm/leg raise

This exercise, sometimes called the bird-dog pose in yoga, strengthens your abdominals and back muscles.

Image of person doing opposite arm leg raise exercise for upper and middle back pain
  1. Get on your hands and knees. Keep your spine straight, with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees aligned directly under your hips.
  2. Slowly reach out with one arm while extending the leg on its opposite side. Keep both straight and level.
  3. Hold for a few deep breaths, then gently lower your arm and leg to starting position.
  4. Repeat this exercise with your other arm/leg.
  5. If you had a tissue box balanced on your lower back it should remain in place throughout the exercise.

Try for 10 to 15 repetitions on each side.

Corner stretch

Upper back pain is often due to poor posture, which may be exacerbated by tight chest muscles. The corner stretch is an easy and effective way to open up the chest muscles and encourage healthy posture.

Image of person doing the corner stretch exercise for upper and middle back pain
  1. Face the corner of a room.
  2. Position feet together, about 2 feet away from the corner.
  3. Place a forearm on each wall with the elbows slightly below shoulder height.
  4. Lean forward until a good stretch is felt across the chest and shoulders. Your lower back should remain neutral (as it is while standing).
  5. Hold the stretch 30 to 60 seconds.

If a corner is not available, another option is to perform this stretch in a doorway by placing the forearms on the door jambs (sides of the door frame). This stretch can be performed 3 to 5 times throughout the day.

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Prone cobra

The prone cobra is an advanced back extension exercise that targets your upper back muscles:

  1. Lie on the floor face down. You may place the forehead on a rolled-up hand towel for comfort.
  2. Place the arms at the side, palms down on the floor
  3. Pinch the shoulder blades together and lift the hands off the floor. Keep shoulders down and away from ears.
  4. Roll the elbows in, palms out and thumbs up.
  5. Gently lift the forehead about an inch off the towel keeping the eyes looking straight at the floor (do not tip the head back and look forward).
  6. Try to hold the position for 10 seconds.
  7. Aim to complete 10 repetitions.

To increase the intensity slightly, you can lift your legs off the ground, too.

Exercise should push your body (whether a feeling of stretch or fatigue) but not leave you feeling increased symptoms at rest. Stop immediately and consult with your health care provider if any of these exercises increase or cause pain. A physiatrist, physical therapist, or other qualified health professional can create an exercise plan specifically tailored to treat your symptoms and underlying condition.

Learn more:

Back Strengthening Exercises

Stretching for Back Pain Relief