Reading is an enjoyable pastime for many people, but holding your neck in a flexed position for prolonged periods can lead to annoying and sometimes debilitating neck pain. Neck discomfort caused by reading is often the result of poor posture and can be prevented and treated through some simple interventions. If you find yourself regularly suffering from a sore, stiff neck after a reading session, there are several things you can try to find relief.
Adjust Your Body Position
A major factor in neck pain from reading is improper body positioning that places excessive strain on the muscles. Try adjusting the height and angle of your reading material to bring it closer to eye level. This may mean using a book stand or propping up your book rather than holding it in your hands or lap. Sit with your back against a chair and feet flat on the floor instead of slouching or lying down. Roll up a towel and place it behind your neck for support if needed. These tweaks reduce the degree of neck flexion required.
Take Regular Breaks
Taking proactive breaks while reading gives your neck muscles a chance to relax from sustained postures. Follow the 20-20-20 rule – for every 20 minutes of reading, look away at something 20 feet in the distance for 20 seconds. Set reminders to get up and move around for a few minutes each hour. Gently stretch your neck in different directions and do shoulder rolls. Massaging the neck while on a short break can also boost circulation and loosen muscles.
Improve Your Seated Posture
Poor posture tends to creep up without notice when you’re absorbed in a book. Remind yourself periodically to straighten your back, square your shoulders, and press them down and back. Avoid hunching over or craning your neck forward. You can place a rolled towel or small pillow behind your lower back for more support. Sitting upright in a chair with proper lumbar support takes strain off the neck muscles.
Use Cold Therapy
Applying something cold to your neck and shoulders can alleviate post-reading pain caused by muscle tightness and inflammation. Wrap an ice pack or frozen gel pack in a towel and place on the sore areas for 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, try using a soft neck wrap chilled in the freezer. The cold temperature has a numbing effect and may help tense muscles unclench. Just don’t overdo it – extended cold exposure could cause tissue damage.
Try Over-the-Counter Medications
For moderate to severe neck discomfort, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or naproxen can provide pain relief and reduce inflammation associated with muscle tension. Oral pain-relievers like acetaminophen or topical creams containing menthol or capsaicin may also offer temporary relief for sore neck muscles. Follow instructions carefully and consult your doctor if pain persists.
Apply Heat Therapy
Where cold reduces inflammation, heat helps release muscle tightness and spasms. Try using a microwavable neck wrap, taking a warm shower, or applying a heating pad on the lowest setting to relax the muscles for 15 minutes 2-3 times per day. You can also massage sore spots with a lightly heated lotion or oil. The increased circulation provides immediate soothing effects. Avoid applying heat to recent injuries or swollen areas.
Do Neck Strengthening Exercises
Weak neck muscles are more prone to strain during prolonged reading. Perform targeted exercises that strengthen your neck twice per week. Chin tucks, shoulder shrugs, and using your hand to apply light resistance as you turn your head left and right are a few examples. Building neck muscle endurance reduces tension and discomfort from extended reading periods.
See a Physical Therapist
If home remedies aren’t providing lasting relief for chronic neck pain caused by reading, consult your health provider about seeing a physical therapist. They can assess your condition and posture deficiencies and provide exercises and techniques tailored to remediating your specific neck issues. This may include manual therapy, stretching, massage, or taping methods to properly realign the neck.
Use Proper Pillow Support When Lying Down
Reading before bed can lead to waking up with neck stiffness if you don’t have adequate pillow support. Cervical pillows and contoured memory foam options can help maintain neutral neck alignment as you sleep. Avoid sleeping only on soft, flat pillows that let your head tilt at sharp angles. Proper cushioning reduces nighttime postural stress on your neck.
With some awareness and targeted interventions, neck discomfort associated with the hunched posture of reading doesn’t have to be inevitable. Pay attention to neck positioning during and between reading sessions. And don’t hesitate to utilize both hot and cold therapies, medication, exercises, and ergonomic aids to relieve neck pain and keep it from detracting from your reading enjoyment.