Reduce "text neck"
If there was ever was a reason to break from your smartphone, it's the dreaded "text neck," in which your neck juts out and down while viewing a small screen. "This is called forward head posture and it is absolutely terrible for your neck and your nervous system," says Douglas Terry, DC, of Terry Chirporactic Boulder in Boulder, Colorado. "This posture stretches the spinal cord which can cause neck pain, disc degeneration, nerve impingement, and disease." In addition to hurting your neck, this position can lower your levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone, and pinches the vagus nerve, which is a major player in controlling your bowel regularity, Terry says. The fix, luckily, is easy—bring your phone up to eye level. Better yet, toss it aside and enjoy the world in front of you. Here are other sneaky reasons you're making your neck hurt.
Sit up straight
When you plop down in a chair to work, eat, or watch a movie, how are you sitting? Are you slouching? Mom was right. You should sit up straight to improve posture and keep your spine happy and healthy. If you are sitting and need to look down, instead of slouching, lean forward at the waist, 15 to 20 degrees and bring your chest to your work rather than looking down from your neck or slouching in your mid-back, Dr. Terry says. Be careful to keep your lower spine neutral; overarching creates its own problems. These neck exercises can reduce neck pain by 50 percent.
Wondering how to get better posture? There are a number of balance exercises you can incorporate into your regular routine to better your posture. According to WebMD, yoga and Pilates, in particular, target your core and lower back muscles, essential for enhancing your everyday stance. Try doing crunches, core crossovers, planks, and the cobra pose (feels amazing, right?!). The idea is controlled and stabilizing movements as well as torso mobility to stretch and extend the spine.
iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
When done correctly, a yoga headstand can strengthen your core and relieve pressure on your back and spine so your muscles can support good posture. They also have the added benefit of improving shoulder and neck strength, getting your digestive system moving, and can help relieve stress, according to livestrong.com. Proper alignment is essential; if you can't get up on your own, do a headstand against a wall for support.
Sleep on your side
How you sleep plays a huge role in overall posture, and may explain daily neck or upper back pain. "If you sleep on your back with a pillow under your head, you are creating the same effect of forward head posture," Dr. Terry says. You'll wake up with a happier spine if you sleep on your side with a pillow in between your legs, he says. These are the best sleep positions for 11 common health problems.
Wear the right shoes
If you're a big fan of pumps or wedges, bad news: "When women wear shoes with a lifted heel on them, it cocks their hips forward and potentially pinches the discs and nerves in their lower back," Dr. Terry says. "Women who wear heels all the time tend to have a lot of lower back pain for this reason." Save your high heels for special occasions, and consider a back massage post-wear to get rid of muscle tension. For everyday use, consider shoes that offer proper arch support, which will improve posture. Here are more horrible things high heels can do to your body.
Consider seeing a chiropractor
Chiropractic biophysics (CBP) is a more invasive way to correct your posture, but may help, depending on the condition of your spine. It's not to be confused with regular chiropractic alignment. "The philosophy behind CBP is to create a real improvement in people's health and posture," Dr. Terry say. "The overall method behind CBP is to re-educate the muscle's tendons and ligaments in and around the spine in order to correct postural distortions and misalignment." CBP is similar to braces—much like a teen would get braces to correct the position of his or her teeth, CBP uses equipment called traction to correct the position of the spine. However, this method only works over a period of months, though the results are permanent and structural. To find a CBP specialist in your area, check idealspine.com.