If your usual reading position looks like a baby deer (cute but not so good for neck or your spine), you may have experienced neck or back pain from the non-ergonomic setup. "Sitting for long periods of time with your head hanging forward while looking down at a book can lead to pain and discomfort caused by nerve impingement, arthritis, disc injury, and muscle pain," says Derrell Blackburn, DC, a chiropractor and senior manager of chiropractic relations and training at The Joint Chiropractic. "For every inch the head hangs forward, 10 pounds of weight is added to the neck muscles and upper back, which have to support your head, which weighs about 12 pounds." And, when trying to lean your head over a book to read it, this can happen quite easily.
According to Jay Heller, DC, a New York City-based chiropractor, the first component of having good posture is having your feet flat on the floor, which right away means that reading in bed isn't the most ergonomic setup. For keeping your neck in proper alignment, he says that it's better to bring your book closer to your head than your head closer to your book, for one. "If you're leaning in too close to your book, that gives you forward head posture," he says, adding that having too many pillows behind your head will do the same thing. "When your head is forward, even in bed, it cuts down on the amount of oxygen that gets into your lungs, besides being bad for your spine."
To have the best possible alignment while reading, Dr. Heller recommends sitting up as much as you can, rather than reading while lying down, and having your legs straight out if you're in bed. "When you sit up, you can support your spine with a pillow and be conscious of maintaining the invisible line from your ear to your shoulder for proper alignment," he says. Dr. Blackburn suggests placing a pillow behind your lower back for the most optimal posture, since "proper back support will ensure proper alignment of the spine and neck." Placing a pillow on your lap to help your arms hold your book closer to your face helps, too. "You want to keep your eyes as straight ahead as possible for the sake of your neck," says Dr. Heller. Once you get your body and pillows in place, it should instantly feel more comfortable than that curled-up shape you may have been reading in before.
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