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Can Reading Cause My Neck and Shoulder Pain?

Reading is one of life’s great pleasures for many people. Getting lost in a good book allows your mind to relax while stimulating your imagination. However, one downside of reading for long periods is that it can lead to neck, shoulder and back pain. If you find yourself frequently dealing with discomfort while or after reading, there are several things you can do to prevent and treat the issue.

How Reading Can Cause Pain

There are a few reasons why reading extensively can cause discomfort in your neck, shoulders and back:

Poor Posture – When you read, especially if you’re sitting, you tend to hunch over and round your shoulders forward. This strains the muscles in your neck and upper back. Maintaining this posture for a long time hyperextends the neck, tenses the shoulders, and compresses the discs and nerves in the spine. This compression then causes pain.

Looking Down – Reading usually involves looking down at a book or e-reader screen. This requires your neck to bend forward. The longer your neck bends, the more strain builds up in those muscles. This can lead to stiffness and soreness.

Stillness – Being still for prolonged periods while reading can make muscles tighter. The lack of movement allows your muscles to seize up. Tight muscles then pull on joints, creating discomfort.

How to Prevent Pain While Reading

The good news is there are many ways you can prevent and treat neck, shoulder and back pain caused by reading:

Maintain Good Posture – Keep your back straight, feet flat on the floor, and hold books or devices at eye level to avoid hunching over. If sitting, use a lumbar support cushion to prevent slouching. Take breaks to walk around and stretch.

Check Your Vision – Eyestrain from reading can tense muscles. Ensure you’re wearing updated prescriptions so you don’t have to strain to see words clearly. Use anti-glare screens if reading devices.

Adjust Your Set-Up – When possible, read lying down to avoid neck strain. If sitting, use a high pillow behind your lower back for support. Sit in a comfy chair at a table so you’re not looking down. Have good lighting to avoid squinting.

Do Neck & Shoulder Exercises – Simple stretches can relieve tension. Slowly tilt your head side to side, look up and down, and do shoulder rolls. Use breaks to walk around and move muscles.

Use Ergonomic Aids – Hold books with a stand to avoid having to look down and strain your neck. Book holders keep materials upright and close to eye level. Use large, angled reading pillows to lift books and e-readers in your lap.

Apply Heat or Ice – Heat relaxes muscles while cold reduces inflammation. Use microwavable heating packs or wraps, or ice packs, on sore areas for 15 mins at a time to ease discomfort.

Get Massages – Ask someone to massage your neck, shoulders, and upper back to help relax tight muscles. A professional massage therapist can target tender spots even better.

Perform Yoga – Gentle yoga works muscles through positions while increasing blood flow. Cat-cow, neck rolls, shoulder shrugs and chest openers help target common reading strain areas.

Try OTC Medication – For more persistent soreness, OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen or NSAIDs can provide relief. Consult your doctor about dosage and frequency.

See a Doctor – If pain persists for over a week or is severe, make an appointment with your physician. They can check for underlying conditions and provide prescription medication or physical therapy if needed.

By being aware of your posture and making small adjustments to your reading set-up and habits, you can prevent and treat the neck, shoulder and back pain that can come from enjoying a good book or e-reader. Don’t let discomfort stop you from reading – take proactive steps to address the strain reading can place on your upper body.