Reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Getting lost in a good book allows us to relax, learn, and expand our minds. However, for avid readers who spend hours hunched over books, e-readers, or tablets, the position can wreak havoc on the neck. If you’re a bookworm who often finds yourself with a sore, stiff neck, don’t despair. With a few simple tweaks to your reading routine and environment, you can prevent and alleviate neck pain.
Maintain Proper Posture
One of the main causes of neck pain from reading is poor posture. When we slouch over our reading material with our necks bent forward, it puts strain on the cervical spine. This can compress the vertebrae and strain the muscles, tendons, and nerves in the neck.
Whether you’re reading a physical book or on a device, keep your back straight and avoid hunching over. Your eyes should be level with the top third of the page or screen. If you’re reading a book, hold it upright in your hands instead of resting it flat on a surface. For tablets and e-readers, prop them up on a stand rather than placing them flat.
Sit up straight on a firm, supportive chair. Or try laying on your back with the reading material held above your face. Maintaining proper alignment takes pressure off the neck.
Take Regular Breaks
Staring down at a book or screen for prolonged periods without giving your neck a break is a recipe for pain. Make it a habit to take a short 1-2 minute break every 20-30 minutes. Gently stretch your neck, roll your shoulders, stand up and walk around. This gives your muscles a chance to relax and recover.
Set a timer to remind yourself to take regular reading breaks. The key is not to stay locked in one position for too long. Listen to your body – if your neck starts feeling tense, take a break right away. Frequent short breaks are better than waiting until you’re in pain.
Try Hands-Free Reading
Another way to give your neck a break is to utilize hands-free reading. Prop your e-reader or tablet up on a stand and either use voice commands to turn pages or enable auto-scrolling. This allows you to read without having to bend your neck down.
You can also try audio books and have the story read aloud to you. Close your eyes and listen while relaxing your neck completely. Rotate between reading on your device, listening to audio books, and taking frequent breaks. This varies your neck positioning.
Exercise Your Neck
Simple neck stretches and exercises can help keep your cervical spine limber and prevent pain from reading. Here are some beneficial exercises to add to your routine:
- Chin tucks – Draw your chin back to pull your head straight back over your shoulders. Hold for 5 seconds. Do 10 reps.
- Neck rotations – Slowly turn your head from side to side, alternating between left and right. Complete 10 rotations per side.
- Shoulder rolls – Lift your shoulders up toward your ears, roll them back and down in a circular motion. Repeat 5 times.
- Side bends – Gently tilt your head toward each shoulder, holding for 5 seconds on each side. Repeat 5 times per side.
- Back of neck stretches – Place your hands behind your head and gently pull to stretch the back of your neck. Hold for 15 seconds.
Be careful not to over-stretch. Do the exercises gently and stop if you feel any pain.
Adjust Your Reading Environment
Creating an ergonomic reading environment can take pressure off your neck. Make sure your chair, desk, and lighting allow you to read comfortably. Place books and devices at eye level to avoid craning your neck down excessively.
Reduce glare that can cause you to hunch over to see better. Position lamps and adjust curtains to minimize glare on the reading surface. Consider an e-reader that is backlit or has an anti-glare screen.
Reading in bed is cozy but can strain the neck. Avoid sinking into soft pillows and raise yourself up with firm cushions. Or sit propped up in bed with your back against the headboard. The goal is to avoid angling your neck down.
Tweak the arrangement until you can read effortlessly without slouching or bending your neck forward. A setup tailored to you makes longer reading sessions easier on the spine.
Seek Professional Help for Chronic Pain
If you have chronic or severe neck pain that persists in spite of preventative measures, consult your doctor. A physical therapist can assess muscle imbalances and joints that may contribute to cervical pain. They can design a customized treatment plan which may include:
- Exercises to improve posture, flexibility, and neck strength
- Joint mobilization
- Soft tissue massage
- Pain-relieving modalities like heat or ice therapy
- Advice on ergonomic reading positions
For chronic pain, your doctor may recommend medication, steroid injections, or imaging tests to determine if the underlying cause needs additional treatment. Seek help sooner rather than later if your neck pain persists. Early intervention can often resolve issues before they worsen.
The joys of reading don’t have to be marred by neck pain. By cultivating healthy reading habits, you can avoid injury and discomfort. A few small tweaks to stay mindful of your posture, take breaks, and optimize your reading environment can make all the difference. Your neck will thank you.