Reading is one of life’s great pleasures. Getting absorbed in a captivating book transports your mind, reduces stress, and provides entertainment. However, many avid readers know that reading for prolonged periods can also lead to neck pain, soreness, and stiffness. The way you hold your neck and head while reading can put strain on the muscles, tendons, and nerves in this area. Luckily, with some awareness and adjustments, you can prevent and reduce discomfort in your neck when enjoying your favorite books.
Causes of Neck Pain During Reading
There are several factors that contribute to neck discomfort and pain when you read:
- Poor posture – Slouching, tilting your head forward, or craning your neck down puts strain on the cervical spine and neck muscles. This causes them to tire and ache from overuse.
- Stillness – Reading requires you to sit in a static position for an extended time. Lack of movement leads to joint and muscle stiffness.
- Improper support – Reading in bed, on the couch, or without adequate back and neck support lets gravity pull your head forward, stressing the neck.
- Low or glaring light – Squinting to see or angling your head to avoid glare adds tension to the neck muscles.
- Stress – Some readers unconsciously tense their neck and shoulders or hunch over when concentrating. This tenses muscles.
- Eye fatigue – Overworked eye muscles can manifest as tension headaches and neck tightness.
Tips to Improve Reading Posture
The good news is there are many ways you can adjust your reading posture to prevent neck discomfort:
- Use lumbar support – A cushion or rolled towel behind your lower back helps you avoid slouching.
- Sit up straight – Keep your back flush against the seatback instead of at the edge.
- Adjust seat height – Your knees should be level with or slightly lower than your hips.
- Elevate reading material – Hold books and tablets above your lap instead of angling your head down.
- Sit near light source – Position a lamp to avoid glare and squinting at the page.
- Take regular breaks – Follow the 20-20-20 rule – every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break to look 20 feet away.
- Stretch neck and shoulders – Simple stretches can relieve tension build up.
- Use a document holder – Positioning reading material upright at eye level avoids low angle strain.
- Sit or stand – Alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day.
- Get a supportive pillow – A cervical or travel pillow provides neck support if reading in bed.
- Watch your monitor height – If reading on a screen, position the top just below eye level.
Additional Tips for Reading in Bed
Reading in bed is enjoyable but often causes neck issues due to lack of support. Here are some extra tips:
- Prop yourself up – Use pillows behind your back and head so you recline at a 45 degree angle instead of laying flat.
- Don’t look down – Hold your book above your chest so your neck stays aligned and supported.
- Cervical pillow – Choose an ergonomic pillow designed to cradle the neck for support.
- Avoid tensing up – Relax your neck muscles and avoid bringing your chin down to your chest.
- Take breaks – Give your neck frequent breaks from any static position.
- Stretch first – Do simple neck rotations and stretches before settling in.
- Set a timer – Limit reading sessions to 30 minutes to avoid prolonged strain.
- Sleep on back – Sleeping on your back or side helps keep your neck aligned overnight after reading.
Warning Signs to See a Doctor
See your physician promptly if you experience:
- Sharp or radiating pain
- Numbness or tingling
- Severe stiffness
- Loss of mobility
- Disrupted sleep
These may indicate an underlying condition requiring diagnosis. A physical therapist can also assess your posture and functionality and provide exercises to improve neck strength, mobility, and reading ergonomics.
With some awareness and adjustments, you can prevent neck discomfort from your reading habits. Following proper posture and ergonomics allows you to enjoy books without pain. Give these neck strain and tension relieving tips a try!