If you’re on the train or bus right now, do this little self-check: Are you bending your neck to read this? Are you fidgeting from one foot to the next? Is there a gym bag or heavy purse on your shoulder? If so, those little aches and pains you’ve been complaining about might be due to how you get yourself to and from work each day.
“I hear this all the time with patients,” says Dr. Louis Peterson, a chiropractic physician in New York City (www.petersonchiropracticnyc.com). “They’ll come in [saying] ‘Oh, my neck’s sore.’ Those little things start to add up on the commute.”
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And they can add up to long-term consequences, he says. “What you end up [getting is] a sprain-strain injury, where your neck actually gets strained. The muscle fibers start to get slight tears in them. Most people just aren’t aware.”
We asked Dr. Peterson to explain how we should be traveling to and from work.
Try to stay awake
Anyone looking for some extra Z’s shouldn’t find them on the subway: “When [commuters] fall asleep, with their neck stuck to one side, eventually problems [develop],” Dr. Peterson says. “It’s really not good. The neck gets strained.” The fix: “Have your neck up and supported.”
Make it a balancing act
“If you’re standing and holding on, you should try to distribute your weight. You shouldn’t be on one foot or the other,” Dr. Peterson says. And don’t get distracted: Using your phone or trying to read will make your head point downward, which you’re trying to avoid.
Hold your book (or your Nook, or your Metro!) up
“One of the biggest things I see is, when you’re commuting, you’re spending a lot of time reading and your head is face-down. That causes issues with the neck, and that’s always problematic.”
Hold your bags or purses correctly
“Backpacks are the acceptable bags, not having a single bag trying to balance on the shoulders,” Dr. Peterson warns. If you have a purse, “hold it in your hand, not on your shoulder, [because the shoulder] is where you get problems.” Indeed, if you rest a bag there, your shoulder can “get tilted one way or the other,” he says. “You tend to yank that shoulder up higher, and after a while your neck cricks up.”
Walk this way
Sorry, ladies, but you really should go for the whole suit-with-sneakers look. “You can put your heels on at work,” Dr. Peterson says. “When commuting, you should try to stay away from it. It puts an enormous amount of pressure in your lower back.”
It’s not just for athletes: “If you have some pains, try simple stretches for the neck or the low back,” Dr. Peterson advises. “If it hurts, [use] ice; if you’re really dire, give me a call.”