Reading is one of life’s great pleasures. Getting lost in a good book allows us to relax, learn new things, and expand our minds. However, many avid readers experience neck, shoulder, and back pain during or after reading sessions. If you find reading is causing you physical discomfort, you’re not alone. Let’s explore some of the reasons why reading can lead to neck and shoulder pain and what you can do to avoid it.
How Reading Can Strain Your Neck and Shoulders
When we read, especially for long periods, we tend to hold our neck, head, and shoulders still in order to focus on the text. This static posture strains the muscles over time, leading to fatigue and pain. Here are some of the common reading habits that contribute to neck and shoulder issues:
- Slouching or hunching over – Slumping forward curves the spine, causing the head to jut forward. This misalignment places stress on the neck muscles to support the weight of the head.
- Holdingreading material incorrectly – Reading on a tablet or e-reader held flat in your lap forces you to look down. This strains the neck which has to stay bent to view the screen. Books held flat on a table or in your lap also cause neck strain.
- Poor lighting – Insufficient or glarey lighting when reading causes you to crane your neck closer to view the words clearly.
- Using pillows to prop up reading material – While pillows can make reading in bed more comfortable, having to look down at a book or tablet on your lap or chest can still cause neck issues.
- Not taking breaks – Reading for long periods without changing positions keeps your neck and shoulders static, leading to muscle fatigue, pain, and stiffness.
How Reading Can Cause Shoulder and Back Pain
In addition to neck discomfort, reading can also cause pain in the upper back and shoulders. Here’s why:
- Hunching over – Slouching or leaning over reading material compresses the chest, curves the upper back, and rolls the shoulders forward. This strains the muscles between the shoulder blades.
- Holding heavy books or devices – Reading heavy books and tablets requires the arms and shoulders to support their weight while keeping them in position. This can fatigue the shoulder and upper back muscles.
- Using fingersonly to grip book – Holding reading material open solely with your fingers engages the small muscles of the hand. This increases tension in the shoulders and neck.
- Poor posture – Any posture that is not upright when reading places extra strain on the upper back and shoulders. Slouching, lying down, and even some seated positions cause you to round your back and shoulders.
- Remaining in one position – Just like with the neck, keeping your back and shoulders stationary while reading strains the muscles. Changing positions is important.
Preventing Neck, Shoulder and Back Pain from Reading
The good news is there are many things you can do to prevent and reduce strain on the neck, shoulders, and upper back while reading. Here are some tips:
- Use a holder – Use a book holder or prop to keep reading material upright. This allows you to sit with proper upright posture and not hunch over.
- Sit up straight – Maintain upright, aligned posture as much as possible when reading. Avoid slouching or lying down.
- Take breaks – Take a short break every 30-45 minutes to get up, stretch, and change positions. This gives your muscles a rest.
- Adjust screen height – Position e-readers and tablets at eye level to avoid craning your neck down. Use a stand if needed.
- Use a cushion – Sit with your back supported against a cushion or pillow. This prevents slouching.
- Try audiobooks – Listening to audiobooks allows you to sit or move with proper posture and give your eyes a rest.
- Do neck stretches – Stretch your neck regularly when reading to relieve tension. Shoulder rolls and upper back stretches help too.
- Use proper lighting – Ensure you have good lighting when reading to avoid neck craning. Reduce glare on devices.
- Watch your grip – Hold books with both hands to avoid tense shoulders. Let arms rest on chair arms if possible.
- Exercise – Overall strength training helps support proper posture when reading. Yoga also improves flexibility.
When to Seek Help for Reading Pain
Reading shouldn’t be a pain in the neck! If you consistently suffer from stiffness, aches, or soreness in your neck, shoulders, or back after reading, make an appointment with your doctor or physical therapist. They can assess any underlying postural or musculoskeletal issues contributing to your symptoms and provide treatment options. This may include posture correction, exercises, massage, or recommendations for better reading ergonomics. Speak up if reading is causing you chronic discomfort so you can get back to enjoying books comfortably. With some awareness and adjustments, you can prevent reading from being a literal pain in the neck!