[Study Filter] Neck and back tension while studying
March 16, 2014 4:51 AM   Subscribe

I recently started a very intense study abroad program in Beijing studying Chinese. Classes start at 8am and go until 5pm, then I come home and study until I go to sleep around 11pm. Through all this work my neck and back tend to become very tense.

Most of my time studying and sitting in class is spent learning new vocab by repetitive writing in a book, in the air, or something in between. I often find that while studying or taking a test in class my shoulders have climbed up my neck and I have become very tense. When I notice I immediately relax my back and arms, but in another five or ten minutes I notice myself doing the same thing all over again.

I don't have the ability to change the environment where I work in a big way. New chairs aren't available, for example.

Do you have any tips for how to sit to alleviate neck tension or any exercises I can do that will help me relax?
posted by lalunamel to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Can you rig up a reading stand? If your books aren't too heavy, an inexpensive sheet music stand for musicians would do the trick. Anything that will angle your books up so that you have to bend your neck less.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:49 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing that helps is stretching-- put your hands on the back of a chair (or against the wall) and then lean forward so your back is flat and your arms are fully extended. Like this. If your legs aren't flexible enough to stay straight, bend them a little so your back is straight. Hold the stretch for at least a minute.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:51 AM on March 16, 2014

I'm a big fan of Alexander Technique for this exact situation. It helped me immensely. I didn't do all the classes, but some of the very basic stuff was enough for me.
posted by loolie at 10:16 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get a foam roller, or, in case you can't, any not-too-firm, not-too-soft cylinder about 8'' in diameter. Lie down on this with the roller perpendicular to the spine, both in the plane parallel to the floor, and roll on it. If something feels tender, stay on it for a bit and rock gently over that point.

When you're at home, do this every half hour or so; think happy thoughts.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:26 PM on March 16, 2014

You're in Beijing? Don't they have community acupuncture clinics all over the place there (perhaps I'm wrong, I've never been) ? Maybe you can stop by one everyday on the way home from class?
posted by Blitz at 1:47 PM on March 16, 2014

I spent about three years in near-constant pain from exactly this problem. I spent a ton of time and money on it -- painkillers, doctors, chiropractor, foam rollers, lumbar support, new mattress, massage, trigger point therapy, you name it.

In the end, the Alexander Technique solved my problem. If you can find an instructor and can afford it, the research shows that 6-8 sessions should help. (The instructor will often say you need 20: you don't.)

If you can't do AT, these are the stretches that will help. 1) Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Let the small of your back relax towards the floor. 2) Sit in a chair and lean forward until your head is between your knees (curl your head down and forward). 3) Lie on the floor on your back with your legs flat, straight, up on a wall. Do those stretches once or twice a day and your shoulders and neck will loosen. Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 6:58 PM on March 16, 2014

Here are some prism glasses that let you read something on a flat surface while your eyes and face are oriented straight ahead. They are also good for reading in bed (book vertical, eyes and face oriented toward ceiling). I think they might help relieve tension in the neck since a) one doesn't have to lean the head forward, and b) it's odd enough that you'll have to pay a little attention to your posture anyway, so you can put some of that attention into developing a more relaxed posture.

I own some of these and they are really nice.

Some of the suppliers for that Amazon product ship from in or near China, so you should be able to acquire some.
posted by amtho at 6:58 PM on March 16, 2014

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