I come to you with my head hung in shame… Correction: if I could move my neck without wincing, that would be my contrite posture. But I can’t. Not just my neck but my head and shoulders have been locked in painful spasm.
I beg your forgiveness because My New Old Self aims to offer useful counsel to enhance your golden years. There is a firm commitment to the principle of “First do no harm”. Ideally I aim to bring a little pleasure – never pain. So I humbly apologise if anyone followed my latest advice to ill effect.
You may recall my chirpy post last week, singing the praises of an activity I’ve just discovered: Birding. (That’s what the pros call it: not Birdwatching.) Birding Lite is how I described my approach. With no book or pen in hand, using no app, I suggested simply relaxing in The Great Outdoors and checking out birds as they come into view.
So I feel I owe it to you to reveal that several days after my rave review I discovered a down side to my erstwhile hobby. I am casting no blame, it was entirely my own fault. My initial birding experience was less Lite than Extra Strength.
The reason I ended up Binge Birding during my very first outing in the bush with binoculars was because I so enjoyed it. I not only liked seeing birds, but enjoyed hearing their calls. Thanks to a local birding guide with a world class talent for reproducing ornithological audio, it was a treat for my eyes and my ears.
Sadly, it was not a treat for my bones and my muscles. There is a price to pay for craning one’s neck to catch sight of elusive birds high in the tree canopy and crunching the spinal cord to glimpse them flying further upward into the sky. It is known as a Pain In The Neck. You may find it pathetic to whimper over the after-effects of looking up a lot, but I confess that is what I did when my throbbing neck woke me in the middle of the night.
Apparently this over-use injury is a well known occupational hazard, which especially afflicts newby birders like myself. This is because soreness is often not felt until hours or even days after an overuse of neck muscles.
“Blissful ignorance can lead to hours of nonstop canopy-watching, which then leads to a mountain of pain.”
North American birders have a name for this affliction: Warbler Neck, after the various springtime songbirds that migrate through the US sporting bright breeding plumage.
“In order to see these colorful winged beauties, birdwatchers often must look high up into the trees, up in the canopy where the hungry birds are most active. Tracking a little moving bird as it forages for insects between the leaves requires patience, and it means looking up, way up, for an extended period of time. All this sky-high searching may result in a big pain in the neck: Warbler Neck.”
– Warbler Neck Awareness group
In my neck of the woods we use the generic and call it Birder Neck. There is, sadly, no Bird Neck Support Group in my neck of the woods. I’m uncool enough to know a few birders but not old enough to know many (yet). So I relied on Google to unpack Birder Neck, which helped distract me from the pain. I am no doctor or healer but I can suggest a treatment. (Rest assured that it is in keeping with the No Harm guideline.)
Who knew that alternating heat and ice may bring more relief than painkillers? You can use a hot water bottle but I warmed up a wheat-filled corduroy bag in the microwave and applied it to my aching neck. Then when my skin thawed I took a bag of frozen peas from the freezer – you can also use ice cubes – and lay it on the same painful spot for a few minutes.
Now that I have finally recovered, in the course of writing this, a take-out message may be in order. Not just about Birder Neck, but about the hazards of any new hobby. There’s a lot of hype about continuing to try new things as you get older. What they don’t tell you is to consider beforehand the effect of these new things on your old body.
I have already written here about Text Neck and Smartphone Neck (wrongly hoping these conditions were obviated by my new mantra: “Lucky I’m Too Old!” – LITO). In contrast to Birder Neck, Text Neck and Smartphone Neck are caused by looking down – at screens on phones and computers, of course. Instead of unnaturally stretching up, your neck hangs unhealthily downwards.
Lesson learned. To live longer in less pain, spend more time looking straight ahead, with neck and spine aligned. Now what hobbies involve this recommended posture?