Do you know why people grow shorter and shorter as they grow up? It’s because they use more and more technology. Ok, I am kidding… (but not really).
I mean, let’s look at it this way. In the past, our ancestors used to keep their heads and eyes up on the horizon instead of looking down at a screen. But the sad reality is that those days are long gone! Not only are people nowadays using more and more technology and having more and more devices, now with COVID-19, there is absolutely no delineation between work and personal life. Let’s face it, many people are rolling out of bed straight to sitting at their computers, working longer hours and taking fewer breaks.
So what is tech neck exactly?
Tech neck is repeatedly hanging your head down and forward to look at your phone or computer screen.
“Every inch your head hangs forward of center adds extra perceived weight of the head by the nervous system due to gravity,” explains Emily Kiberd, a chiropractor and founder of New York’s Urban Wellness Clinic. “The muscles need to counteract this weight by locking down to hold your head up. This leads to tension headaches, migraines, jaw pain, and tightness in the midback and upper traps.”
It doesn’t just lead to physical discomfort, either. Let’s face it: Because staring at ourselves on Zoom day is having a perplexing impact on our self-image, many are also focused on the visual signs of tech neck, such as creasing and wrinkles.
“The neck is a complicated place with its relatively thin skin and the powerful platysma muscle layer,” says Dara Liotta, a New York City-based plastic and cosmetic surgeon, who has seen an uptick in concerns around the neck during lockdown. “We ask a lot of our necks in this modern age—and holding out heads at a downward-looking angle for many hours a day combined with the delicate anatomy of the neck is a recipe for tech-neck related complaints.”
Common symptoms of tech neck
Text neck symptoms commonly include one or more of the following:
- Pain in the neck, upper back, and/or shoulder. This pain may be located in one specific spot and feel intense or stabbing, or it may be a general achiness and soreness that covers a broader region, such as spanning from the bottom of the neck and into the shoulder(s)
- Forward head posture and rounded shoulders. Muscles in the neck, chest, and upper back can become deconditioned and imbalanced due to prolonged forward head posture. This deconditioning can make it difficult to maintain good posture with the ears directly over the shoulders
- Reduced mobility. The neck, upper back, and shoulders may all experience some tightness and reduced mobility
- Headache. Muscles at the base of the neck could go into spasm and become painful, or pain could also be referred from the neck up into the head. Excessive amounts of time looking at screens, regardless of posture, may also increase the risk for eyestrain and headache
- Increased pain when neck flexion. Text neck symptoms tend to worsen when the neck is flexed forward into the position that originally caused the problem, such as while looking down and texting
How to avoid tech neck
Raise and position your screen higher
To avoid bending your neck down or sloping your head forward, move the phone (and other devices) up closer to eye level so the head does not have to be tilted forward. If holding the screen higher causes your arms to become tired, buy a holder that elevates your device or prop your arms up comfortably by resting your elbows on a tabletop. If you’re working on a laptop, buy another monitor and adjust its height.
Take Stand-Up-and-Move Breaks Throughout the Day
A major part of keeping your body healthy and happy is keeping mobile. Throughout the working day, be sure to shift positions and take frequent walk breaks to prevent stiffness and soreness. Spend some time away from the phone—or any type of head-forward posture. If needed, use an alarm or app to set automatic reminders to take breaks from handheld devices.
Arch and stretch
If a stiff neck is causing you discomfort, you can find relief in back-arching stretches. Arch the neck and upper back backward periodically to ease muscle pain. You can help minimize cervical spine strain and support the weight of your head by keeping these muscles in decent shape.
Performing exercises that focus on your lower back and abdominals can also help. Although it might seem counterintuitive to exercise this area of your body for tech neck prevention, these muscles help support your upper body, including your neck.
A strong, flexible back and neck are more able to handle extra stress. Some research indicates that people who are active in low-impact team sports or endurance sports are less likely to have neck pain.
Choose an aerobic exercise that doesn’t lead to neck pain while you’re performing it or the following day. You’ll keep your back and neck healthier by performing this exercise for at least 20 minutes each day, three or four times a week, because it will increase your respiratory and heart rate, helping you work up a sweat. It also eases neck tension. Examples include:
- Walking at a brisk pace
- Using an elliptical trainer or stationary bike
But if exercising is not your cup of tea, here are some simple home stretches you can do to counteract tech neck effects:
- Pigeon neck: Pull your chin back to reverse forward and down positioning of your head, so your head will sit back between your shoulders. If you do this correctly, your head should align directly over your torso, relieving spinal compression and backside neck muscle strain.
- Chest opening: Stand or sit while clasping your hands behind your head. Squeeze your shoulder blades back as you open your elbows up out to the side. You should feel the front of your chest stretch. Bring your shoulders and head slightly backward and arch your upper middle back to increase the stretch. Hold 20 seconds and release slowly.
- Nod: Sit upright and situate your head directly over your torso. Now, your head up and down so you can feel the amount of movement you have in your topmost neck joint, where your skull connects to your cervical spine. Then, hold your nod at the bottom, creating a double chin. Don’t nod so hard you cut off your breath or hit your throat with your chin. Hold the position for 10 seconds, releasing slowly.
- Postural correction/spinal decompression: Sit down on the edge of your chair with your feet turned out around a 45-degree angle and legs apart. Loosely hold your arms at your sides and face your palms forward, sitting upright in a neutral position. Now, position your back until it’s right over your shoulders and take around 10 deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Repeat.
Sit in a chair with a headrest
Your chair’s ergonomics can help you keep proper posture and prevent tech neck. Buy a chair with a headrest so you can hold the back of your head up against the headrest as you use your computer. When you hold your head in this position, it prevents you from flexing your neck forward to look down.
Make your WFH space more ergonomic
Invest in a standing desk, but with one caveat: You don’t need to stand all the time. Mix up your standing and sitting at your standing desk. For instance, it is suggested to do 20 to 30 minutes of intense work while sitting so you can concentrate, and then standing for more casual conference calls or leisurely spreadsheets after.
When you’re sitting, it’s important to be conscious of your posture. A good rule of thumb: Sit with your feet grounded on the floor. It’s hard to hold yourself up with proper posture if your legs are criss-crossed or one leg is folded under the other. You would want to feel grounded to build good posture from the ground up.
Follow a Dedicated Neck-Care Routine
The skin on the neck is one of the most delicate areas on your body. “It has a relatively thin dermis layer, therefore less collagen and elastin,” explains New York dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah, who recommends addressing “tech neck” concerns, like horizontal neck lines, with a tailored skin-care regimen. First, be vigilant about applying sunscreen to the neck area daily. “UV radiation contributes to wrinkles and laxity,” says Shah. Then, incorporate a Vitamin C antioxidant serum, which helps to retain elasticity and tighten the skin with its protective and collagen-boosting benefits, as well as a hydrating, targeted neck moisturizer with restorative properties, such as peptides, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid. “Apply [each] upward from the base of the neck to the jawline,” instructs Shah.
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