Enjoy Your Hobbies Without Back and Neck Pain

Everyone needs hobbies; you can’t just work all day every day. But make sure your hobbies are safe for your spine by following this guide.

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Hobbies and pastimes are an important part of life. People need to have things they enjoy, from athletic endeavors to activities like crafting. But although having activities boosts your mood, mental health and more, you need to mind your spine, as some hobbies can stress your back. Here’s how to make sure your activities are both fun and safe.

Hobbies and spineBe mindful of your spine when you're enjoying your hobbies. Protect Your Neck

According to Mayo Clinic, poor posture is a leading cause of neck pain. Looking down increases the load that the cervical spine has to bear, and it can be quite a heavy load. In a neutral position, the human head weighs approximately 10-12 pounds. When you lean your head forward—you know, when your face is buried in your phone—the weight increases incrementally, from a load of 27 pounds at a 15-degree angle all the way to 60 pounds at 60 degrees. That strains the cervical vertebrae, joints, and muscles.

In recent years, much has been said about “text neck”—an issue stemming from the way people hold their heads and necks when using a cell phone for texting, gaming, or other activities. Some 2019 studies suggest that the average person spends three to five hours per day on their smart phone or tablet, which means three to five hours of extra weight for your neck to bear.

But with 2020 and the pandemic, people have been spending more time on their smart phones and tablets. A September/October study published in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews noted that people are naturally spending more time on their phones, using them to order food, have telehealth appointments, read the news, and more. That same study noted several problems associated with this increased use, including neck pain.

The position of the neck when using a smartphone or tablet is similar to the way the neck is held for other leisure activities, such as crafting, sewing and other needlework, painting, knitting, even reading. That means participating in these hobbies can increase the risk of cervical painA

Mom was Right – Sit Up Straight!

Many people sit when working on their hobbies. It’s comfortable, whether you are using a laptop, knitting a scarf, painting, or many other fun activities. But most of us don’t consider our posture when doing so, and that can lead to problems.

 Leaning over curves the spine and increases the load the spine endures. Doing it for long or repeated periods means strain, leading to low back pain, muscle spasms, and other spine-related health issues. It’s a leading cause of back pain, according to UCLA Health.

Another problem with sitting is that people tend to slouch. This, a 2006 study states,  may increase the likelihood of lower back pain. Here’s why.

For one, slouching causes gaps between your lumbar vertebrae, which stresses the facet joints—the connections between vertebrae. It also elongates your soft tissue like muscles and fascia (connective tissue). Elongation does two things: First, it causes the tissue to try to snap back to its original shape, which can cause painful muscle spasms. Second, muscles that are constantly elongated get weaker over time.

The longer you sit and slouch, the more likely your lower back is going to suffer. Keeping the spine straight lessens the strain on muscles and your vertebrae. That means less pain and discomfort.

Hobbies and spine sittingMom had a point when she told you to sit up straight; it's better for your back.

Ergonomics at Home

According to the University at Chapel Hill Environmental, Health and Safety division, “Many hobbies and other everyday activities performed outside of the workplace can be sources of ergonomic stressors.” Ergonomics looks at how the immediate surroundings—your desk, work area, craft room, etc.—interact with what you are doing. The right ergonomics help to protect the spine. The wrong ones can cause damage due to issues like muscle strain, repetitive movements, and incorrect posture.

Look at your workspace and consider the ergonomics of it, especially:

  • Your chair: Make sure you have the right kind of chair. An adjustable one is best. Start from the base and work your way up. Is the base stable? Is the seat both comfortable and adjustable? Does the chair have a backrest and arm rests? Does the chair have lumbar support or will you need to get a cushion?
  • Your table or desk: Is the height correct? Some tables, such as drafting tables and lap desks, have adjustable surfaces to make life easier. If your work surface itself isn’t adjustable, go back to your chair and make adjustments as needed. You also want your hips higher than your knees to take strain off your sacrum and lumbar spine. Your upper back should be straight, with your shoulderblades together, which makes a nice, supportive platform for your neck and head. Make sure you can look at things head on, whenever possible.
  • Your tools: Craft stands and document holders are terrific tools to help keep you from constantly having to lean over your workspace. They are adjustable and can be purchased in different heights depending on what you need. Some are tall enough to be used without a desk, while other can be placed on a desk or tabletop. Document holders can often be attached to your computer screen to that both on- and off-screen diagrams and instructions are at the same height.
  • Your vision: Do you find that you often need to lean down to get a closer look at your project? Your vision could be the problem. Do you wear glasses? It might be time for a check-up. If you don’t normally wear glasses, it might be time to see an optometrist in case you need glasses. In some cases, non-prescription magnifiers are the answer, whether handheld or glasses. These items are inexpensive, easily found, and may solve the problem.

Don’t Forget to Stretch

Another common problem is working for too long in one position. People can get into the zone, especially when working on something creative, and not want to stop the flow. But frequent breaks are vital.  Harvard Health recommends maintaining the right posture, stretching, and getting up to move around on a regular basis.

Stretch your neck by turning your head gently from side to side, tipping your head by bringing your ear to your shoulder, and lowering your head so that your chin nearly touches your chest. Next, turn your face to look diagonally down to your armpit, which stretches your trapezius and levator scapulae muscles. Hold the stretches for 10-15 seconds and remember to always move slowly and gently.

Stretches for the lower back are also important. The Mayo Clinic recommends just 15 minutes a day of stretches to maintain the health of your spine. Start with these five back stretches.

If pain or discomfort becomes frequent or unmanageable, it’s time to seek professional help. If you’re in the United States, you can see a physical therapist trained in orthopedic issues and ergonomics without a prescription in all 50 states. Call your doctor or physical therapist to find out if you need treatment. Following the guidelines explained in this article can help you enjoy your hobbies without pain or sacrifice. Be safe and get creative!

Updated on: 09/30/20
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Ergonomics: The Human Body and Injury Prevention
Theresa Marko, DPT
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Ergonomics: The Human Body and Injury Prevention

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