Gaze Perseid Meteors Without Neck Pain
The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Gaze Perseid Meteors Without Neck Pain

This weekend in the Northern Hemisphere, the moon will be new, and the night dark, and the skies filled with the shooting stars of the Perseid Meteor shower.

Every 130 years or so, the Swift-Tuttle comet circles the Sun, streaming icy, dusty debris the size of sand and peas. Every mid-August, the Earth passes the orbit of Swift-Tuttle, raining fiery remains through the atmosphere. Igniting against the air's intense friction, they "shoot" across the sky. Books by people who study these things say they fly about 37 miles per second (60 kps), most burning away far above the ground.

The Perseid showers are seen in the sky around the constellation of Perseus the Hero, giving the name. Early Greeks explained that the god Zeus, father of Perseus, visited Perseus' mortal mother Danae in a shower of brightness. Later the event was renamed (or reborn) as "The Tears of St. Lawrence" for their appearance during the August festival of Saint Laurentius. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean writings of Perseid showers date from the 8th century. I grew up on Russian childhood social-utopian folk bedtime stories of comets, mixed with my Grandmother's whispers of fiery conflagration, later determined from an unknown comet or part bursting over Tunguska Krasnoyarsk Siberia around 1908, devastating the forest (later politically reinvented as a nuclear event, and editorially as UFOs for Russian science fiction writing and American television).

What about your neck?
When watching meteor showers standing or sitting, don't martyr your neck. If you crane your neck and push the chin forward when looking upward, you put destructive force on the neck, shown in three examples that follow:

  • Three images above show craning the neck and jutting the chin. Injurious compression builds in vertebrae, discs, and surrounding soft tissue.
  • The left and middle images show leaning the upper body backward. Thoracic lean overly arches the lower back (hyperlordosis), adding weighted compression to the joints called facets and soft tissue of the lower spine.
  • The right photo shows unhealthy craning with the chin forward, common in some yoga and exercise classes. It adds sizeable compressive loading on the back of neck vertebrae plus shearing force on the discs. When raising arms upward, it contributes to rotator cuff compression and injury. Click Overhead Lifting, Reaching, and Throwing Part I - Shoulder and Rotator Cuff Injury.

I understand that jutting the chin far forward is often taught as proper form. I have taken yoga classes in India with major names and those unknown to the outside world. One teacher told me pushing the neck and chin forward protects the discs. It unfortunately doesn't. Shearing force on the discs is severe when you jut the chin forward then raise it. Shear is a structural strain when one layer shifts sideways (or front to back) in relation to the other. Damage may take years to accrue until visible on x-ray. Don't jut your chin forward, especially not when looking upward.

Photo 3 above shows tilting the neck forward when looking through binoculars (left figure with yellow arrow). The chin is not forward, but the forward head still creates painful forces on the upper back contributing to upper crossed syndrome, disc trouble, and muscle strain in the classic diamond and hangar shape across the upper back. The pain is easily stopped. Keep neck vertical and chin in (right green arrow).

You can look directly upward for all you need in healthful position. Here are ways:

  • Keep your chin in, loosely and relaxed.
  • Shoulders back.
  • The back of your head lifts loosely upward without strain.
  • Straighten the rounded-forward curve of the upper spine - get more upward gaze range from your upper back.
  • Don't yank or force the head and chin back, or the corners of your neck will ache.
  • Don't lean back by arching your lower back.

Healthy upward gazing is a nice good-feeling stretch and exercise for the upper back and neck without injury. Use it for all overhead needs, photo 4 of Amsterdam policeman at right.

The time where we pass through the Perseid shower is long, from about July 15 through August 25. The highest activity is predicted over the Northern Hemisphere this coming weekend. Look up on Saturday, 11 August before dawn, Sunday morning the 12th, late Sunday night through Monday early dawn.

Because of the tilt to Swift-Tuttle's orbit, its fiery dust falls almost entirely on Earth's northern hemisphere. Southern hemisphere friends see few Perseids. The next good Southern hemisphere meteor shower is hoped to be the Geminid showers in December.

The constellation where meteors appear to come from is called the radiant. The Perseid meteor shower radiant is the constellation Perseus. The Leonid shower is hoped to peak this 18 November. Look toward the constellation Leo. The Geminid shower radiant is the Gemini constellation. Watch in mid-December with the evening crescent of the moon.

In photo 5 at left of looking up through the telescope, the general position is pretty good, but the neck is a bit more forward than needs to be. Get more healthy range from the upper back by "unrounding" and lifting up with the upper back, and less by jutting the neck forward.

Experiment on your own. Use a mirror and send in your photos of remaking healthful fun overhead gazing activities.

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Photo 1 by Vlad Butsky
Photo 2 collection by subscription to
Photo 3 by timparkinson
Photo 4 by Karen Eliot
Photo 5 by Waifer X

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.