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Do you spend a lot of time on your phone (or a laptop)?
Who doesn’t, right?
When you can order a hodgepodge of groceries for same-day delivery in your underwear, there really isn’t any going back.
Have you ever noticed those aches and pains after long stints on your phone and just dismissed them as par for the course?
It might be text neck, and yeah, it’s a thing.
Text neck, aka tech neck, is a not so affectionate term for neck pain and other symptoms resulting from constantly looking down to use technology, primarily handheld tech like cell phones, tablets, or even laptops.
Since technology is here to stay, what can you do to prevent the dreaded text neck?
It turns out, a lot. Keep reading!
Disclaimer: Always seek proper instruction before initiating an exercise program. Not everything is great for everyone! Consult with your qualified health care practitioners for an exercise program tailored to your needs. Stay healthy and injury-free! Read the full disclaimer.
TEXT NECK SYMPTOMS
Though it’s named “text neck,” you can see that symptoms can extend into other areas as well.
Surprise, it’s all connected.
- Neck, upper back, and shoulder pain
- Forward head posture with loss of the natural lordotic curve of the neck
- Stiffness and reduced mobility of the neck and shoulders
- Increased pain with neck flexion, such as looking down at a phone
- Compression of intervertebral discs
- Postural muscle weakness
Slumped posture can even contribute to decreased lung capacity in more sedentary individuals. Constant hunching reduces the space your lungs have to expand.
It’s also worth a note that although “text neck” is a newer concept with the rise in mobile tech use, symptoms like the above from a forward head posture have been around for ages, affecting anyone that performs activities like knitting, sewing, working with tools, or even reading a book in your lap!
ANATOMY OF THE CERVICAL SPINE
Let’s back up and look at the cervical spine’s anatomy and its relation to posture and text neck.
The cervical spine has seven vertebrae (bones) connecting the head with the rest of the body.
Between each vertebra is an intervertebral disc and nerves exiting to the arms and other areas.
There are over 26 muscles that help to stabilize and move the head and neck. Talk about a group effort!
HEAD POSITION & NECK STRAIN
An average adult head weighs approximately 10-12 lbs.
Think about that the next time you pick up a bowling ball.
Many studies in the literature cite that for every inch the head translates forward, an additional 10 lbs. of stress is placed on the neck.
By this calculation, at an angle of 45 deg (your typical slumpy text posture), the neck would perceive approximately 49 lbs. of stress. (1kg = 2.2lbs.)
Suddenly your head is feeling pretty heavy. No wonder your neck hurts so much after looking down at your phone!
HOW TO AVOID TEXT NECK
Don’t wait until you have a debilitating case of text neck syndrome to do something. Take some proactive steps.
MIND YOUR POSTURE
Let’s take a minute to discuss posture.
Everyone thinks there’s only one “right” posture, and if you don’t have “it,” then it’s just the way you are.
The truth is, posture is a dynamic concept and there isn’t just one “correct” posture.
Even ff you remained in “technically perfect” posture for several hours, you’d still have aches and pains.
Instead, think of good posture as more of an optimally balanced window of motion, and while in this window, joints are stacked, and muscles are balanced.
This isn’t to say you can’t ever slouch again. Some positions are not necessarily bad, but when you stay in those positions for hours on end and don’t make any motions to counteract, that’s when problems occur.
Maintaining healthy range of motion and adequate strength will help your body support you as you live and move in 3-D.
Making healthy posture a priority does require some attention and lifestyle modification. To learn how, keep reading.
TIPS TO AVOID TEXT NECK
Two of the most critical factors in avoiding tech-related pain are having good ergonomics while you’re using technology and taking frequent breaks to move into other positions.
Here are some general tips to avoid text neck.
- Take frequent breaks
- Use screen time monitors or timers to time block usage
- Instead of always looking down, lift the phone closer to your eye line
- Exercise regularly, including stretching and strengthening exercises
- Do yoga (for even a few minutes per day)
- Get in the habit of monitoring your posture
- Don’t ignore soreness. That’s your cue to change your position.
- Get the right ergonomic tools for your office needs (more below)
ERGONOMIC TIPS TO AVOID TECH NECK
- Avoid working on the couch or bed for prolonged periods.
- Use an ergonomic chair
- Use a footrest to firmly support yourself on the floor or a rocking footrest to keep your calves moving.
- Use a lumbar support pillow to encourage the natural curvature of the spine.
- Place your monitor straight ahead or use hardware to mount and swivel screens for your needs.
- Place the keyboard and mouse in an easily reachable position to avoid awkward positions, 1-2 inches above the thighs.
- Consider using a standing desk to alternate between sitting and standing.
- Take short breaks every 50-60 minutes for both your mind and body.
- Screen breaks are good for your eyes to reduce eye strain by focusing on other things in your environment (that aren’t technology!)
- Use a headset or headphones for phone calls.
BEST EXERCISES FOR TEXT NECK
Now we’re on to the movement piece. These exercises are specifically designed to break you out of that slumpy posture.
Friendly reminder that not all exercises are suitable for everyone and you should see a physical therapist for exercises specific to you.
For such a subtle exercise, many people tend to have a lot of difficulty with this movement. You also may hear this exercise referred to as a “chin tuck,” which is somewhat misleading.
Remember that picture of how heavy the head is when it’s leaning forward? This exercise focuses on retracting it back over the spine.
A mirror is a great place to practice for visual feedback as most people make the mistake of tucking their chin and looking down. Cervical retraction is a translation backward, not a nodding motion.
Check out this video to learn more.
HOW TO PERFORM
- Sit or stand upright
- Retract your head over your spine without tilting your head up or down
- If looking in a mirror, your face should remain level, and you should be able to look yourself in the eye easily.
- Keep the jaw soft; avoid opening the mouth.
- The deep neck flexors perform this motion. There should be a sensation in the muscles alongside the throat while performing this motion. Pressing the tongue to the roof of the mouth can increase the recruitment of these muscles.
- Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10x.
CERVICAL RANGE OF MOTION
Cervical range of motion (ROM), especially extension, helps to counterbalance excessive flexion. Retracting the head over the spine helps to decrease the weight of the head.
Extension (looking up) and rotation (looking over your shoulder) are common motions to lose if you never perform exercises to maintain those ranges.
Regularly moving your joints and soft tissues through full ROM can help.
HOW TO PERFORM
- Only move in pain-free ranges.
- For flexion – look down and try to touch your chin to your chest (without opening the mouth)
- For extension – look up at the ceiling as far as is comfortable.
- For rotation – look over each shoulder.
- For side bending – tilt your ear toward your shoulder.
- Move slowly in and out of each motion 5-10x each.
Cat cow helps bring some gentle movements into the entire spine. It mobilizes several areas at once and is a great bang for your buck if you’re short on time but need to stretch.
HOW TO PERFORM
- Get into a tabletop position with hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips.
- For “cat,” exhale, round the spine, tuck the chin, and press the floor away.
- For “cow,” inhale, drop the belly and lift the gaze.
- Slowly move through these two positions in a range of motion that’s comfortable for you.
THORACIC EXTENSION WITH FOAM ROLLER
Thoracic extension is a wonderful mobilization to counterbalance hours worth of forward flexion.
HOW TO PERFORM
- Sit on the floor and place the foam roller perpendicular to your spine at the shoulder blades level.
- Support your head and neck with your hands.
- Gently roll back, extending over the foam roller only as far as you feel comfortable. You may gently extend your neck while supporting your head with your hands.
- Tuck your chin and slowly lift back up and repeat ten times.
- Keep your bottom on the floor the whole time, hinging at the upper back for mobilization.
Shoulder extension helps open up the front of the shoulder and encourage active extension of the thoracic spine.
HOW TO PERFORM
- Clasp your hands behind your back at the sacrum.
- Upright your posture and gently press your hands down and away from your back.
- Keep breathing deeply and hold for 20-30 seconds.
- Repeat 2-3 times.
UPPER BACK STRENGTHENING
Upper back and scapular muscle strengthening exercises are also a key piece to improving posture.
Some examples are:
- Rear flies
- Push-ups (with a plus)
- Scapular protraction/retraction exercises
- IYTWs in prone or over a physioball
Visit the Exercise Library for more ideas!
BEST TOOLS TO COMBAT TEXT NECK
Give yourself some extra TLC with these tools undo the stress of technology.
STRETCHING & MOBILITY TOOLS
Foam rollers are inexpensive overall mobility tools that you can use for your whole body.
Myofascial release balls are similar to foam rollers in that they can be used for soft tissue mobilization and trigger point release. However, their smaller shape allows them to get deeper into your tissues, especially for harder to reach areas like the small muscles at the base of the skull.
TREAT YOUR OWN NECK BOOK
Treat Your Own Neck by Robin McKenzie (relax the back) is an easy to follow book written by a physical therapist to help manage neck pain.
There is also a version for the low back called Treat Your Own Back, also by Robin McKenzie.
Give yourself 10 min of yoga to release that neck tension with one of my favorite youtube yogi’s Kassandra. Just 10 minutes a day will significantly improve your mobility.
If you have a few more minutes, you can check out these other great yoga classes:
If you’re looking for a studio at home experience with tons of class variety, check out Yoga Download.
WHY JUST GETTING A MASSAGE DOESN’T WORK
Massages feel great, don’t they? What happens the next day?
Don’t get me wrong. Massages are a great way to relax, relieve tension and stress, and incorporate into your overall wellness routine.
But they’re just one piece.
And they’re passive.
You need to move your body to see lasting results.
Take the example of a painful, tight, and weak muscle. A massage may feel good temporarily, but it does nothing to address weakness or flexibility restrictions.
DO POSTURE BRACES WORK?
This is another common question that skirts doing real work to fix a problem.
We’ve all seen those crazy contraptions that claim to strap your shoulders back and fix your posture!
Sorry, to make improvements in strength, flexibility, and habits, your body kindly requests the presence of your company. (Your physical therapist can be your plus one.)
Here are a few issues to consider with posture aids:
Even though the infomercial *promised* to fix your posture and change your life.
BENEFITS ARE TEMPORARY
When used too much, posture braces may serve as a crutch, weakening posture muscles over time because there’s no incentive for your muscles to work.
You may even start to feel worse when you don’t wear it.
POSTURE BRACES CAN MAKE PROBLEMS WORSE
Posture is also more of a whole-body involvement. If you correct just one area, it may make other areas worse due to dramatic changes in alignment. You’re missing critical pieces of postural awareness.
They also may not be adjusted correctly, or you’re possibly over correcting.
It’s better to work with a physical therapist who can properly assess you and give direction specific to your needs.
BRACES ARE NOT A CURE FOR POOR POSTURE
A common thought is that wearing a brace “educates” your body on how to stay.
To truly improve posture and movement, you need to focus on stretching, strengthening, activity modification, and body awareness. This is the best way to educate your body.
FINAL TECH NECK TIPS
Before you get text neck from reading this lengthy article, I hope you’re ready to try some of these tips to help decrease neck pain from technology.
For lasting effects, take breaks and get regular exercise to move your body through healthy range of motion and maintain good strength to support your activities.
Now go get moving!
You might also like:
- The 7 Best Foam Roller Exercises to Combat Poor Desk Posture
- Do You Need A Standing Desk?
- Strategies to Keep Moving with Lower Back Pain
- Keys to Maintain Healthy Shoulders
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Mahmoud NF, Hassan KA, Abdelmajeed SF, Moustafa IM, Silva AG. The Relationship Between Forward Head Posture and Neck Pain: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2019;12(4):562-577. doi:10.1007/s12178-019-09594-y
Samani, Pankti & Athavale, Neeraj & Shyam, Ashok & Sancheti, Parag. (2018). Awareness of text neck syndrome in young-adult population. International Journal Of Community Medicine And Public Health. 5. 3335. 10.18203/2394-6040.ijcmph20183057.
Sharan D, Mohandoss M, Ranganathan R, Jose J. Musculoskeletal disorders of the upper extremities due to extensive hand-held devices. Ann Occup Environ Med. 2014;26:22. Published 2014 Aug 6. doi:10.1186/s40557-014-0022-3