Yes, Whiplash From Sitting At Your Desk!!!

No longer do you have to experience all the fun and excitement of a car accident to suffer the symptoms of whiplash. You heard me right, you can experience neck pain, upper back pain, stiffness, tension across the shoulders and headaches all from sitting at your desk!

All you have to do is sit at your desk and work on the computer for a couple hours a day. What? You work on your computer more than a couple hours a day? You work on your computer nearly all day? Oh, that’s no good.

Unfortunately, that’s most of us. No matter what your job is, no matter what your career, it’s highly likely you’re working on your computer most of the day. When you’re not on your computer, you’re supplementing your time by using a smart phone.

The condition is called Upper Crossed Syndrome and was first identified by Vladimir Janda, MD (pronounced Yan-duh), a Czechoslovakian neurologist who after becoming a physician, went back to get a degree in physical therapy. So his base education is very heavy in

Dr. Janda observed postural abnormalities that led to symptoms such as upper back pain, neck pain and headaches; even in the absence trauma. Which leads me to my initial point about suffering the symptoms of a whiplash without actually having a car accident.

On numerous occasions when taking a patient history, I’ve noticed that patients would complain of many of the same symptoms as those seen in patients who’ve suffered some whiplash type trauma. Typically from a rear-end collision. However this person was never in an accident. In order to rule out any more serious condition, we would obtain x-rays and I began to notice that the x-ray presentation of a car accident / whiplash victim look oddly similar to those patients presenting with Dr. Janda’s Upper Crossed Syndrome. Take a look at the x-rays below.

One is from a patient that works at their computer all day and has for many years. The other, is from someone involved in a rear-end collision. Both have lost their normal curvatures, both show anterior head carriage posture and clinical, both have similar complaints.

The difference is with the car accident, you get it instantly whereas with the “working at your desk” syndrome, something I call “Desk Neck”, it happens slowly over a period of years. You see, constant stress placed just in the wrong way over a long enough time will reshape your posture. Since the musculoskeletal system wasn’t designed to work optimally in that posture, it leads to increased mechanical stress on the joints, fatigue and strain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons and eventually pain as a result of poor mechanical function.

The altered posture and poor mechanical function stimulate the mechanoreceptor organs in and around the joints provoking a response that includes pain & spasm. Eventually, the nervous system gets so use to this change in posture, it starts to see it as “The New Norm” or the new normal position as your brain begins to make adaptations that make this a permanent change.

This same thing will happen with a simple whiplash where someone’s head and neck are “hyper-flexed” and “hyper-extended” instantly injuring the associated ligaments, joint capsules, muscles and tendons. If this isn’t attended to quickly, a new neurologic postural pattern (as described by Janda) sets in an makes the effects permanent.

For the traumatically induced version of this (Car Accident or Sports Injury) starting someone on anti-inflammatory modalities such as ice and muscle stimulation is extremely helpful to reduce the pain, spasm and inflammation associated with the injury. Getting them started on a specific stretching program to help guide the newly forming scar tissue and postural rehab exercises to strengthen the postural muscles in the correct sequence are very important to help return their posture to normal. The final piece of the puzzle is chiropractic adjustments of the involved joint to help restore normal biomechanical function. Normal movement is essential if you’re going to turn off the nociceptive input (read bad information) into the nervous system that leads to chronic long term pain.

With those of you who simply sit at your desk and work on your computer, well the process isn’t as urgent. Yours is already set in. It did so as you type on your keyboard, use your mouse or text on your smart phone. As your arm stretch out in front of you to do your work, over time the pectoralis muscles begin to tighten. As your shoulders round forward, your head and neck begin to slowly fall forward too. To allow this to happen, the muscles of your mid and lower middle back (the mid and lower trapezius) begin to become over stretches allowing the tight pectoralis to pull those shoulders forward. Finally, in order to support the weight of your head and neck leaning forward, your upper trapezius along with your levator scapulae and other neck muscles begin to tighten. This abnormal “upper crossed” posture gets it’s name from the pattern of overly tight (called over facilitated) to overly stretched (under facilitated) muscles. Eventually, the nervous sees this position as “The New Norm” and re-patterns or re-imprints this on your postural blue print. With the change in posture comes an increase in stress on the soft tissues as well as the joints. Triggering nociceptive receptors in the joints and along with the tight muscles causing pain, the joints begin to be a source of pain as well.

Correcting the actual whiplash or the “Desk Neck” version can be done but takes time and commitment. The good thing you don’t have to wait on missing out. Although it’s best to get started right away in correcting this condition, you can wait as long as you want. You see, there’s no pill or injection that will fix this, so it will be waiting for you (and probably a bit worse) whenever you want to get started.

’nuff said.

Dr. Todd Narson Diplomate of the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians Miami Beach, FL

Dr. Narson is a 2-term past president of the Florida Chiropractic Association’s Council on Sports Injuries, Physical Fitness & Rehabilitation and was honored as the recipient of the coveted Chiropractic Sports Physician of the Year Award in 1999-2000. He practices in Miami Beach, Florida at the Miami Beach Family & Sports Chiropractic Center; A Facility for Natural Sports Medicine.


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