Is Technology a Pain in Your Neck?

texting by Flickr ejbSFBy Janice Enloe, personal trainer and running coach, RUN Oak Park and Weights and Measures

“Text neck” is a new term used to describe chronic pain in the neck and upper back caused by the posture we adopt as we stare at our phones.

According to a study published last year in Surgical Technology International, “text neck” is caused when the forward tilt of the head effectively increases the weight on our necks. The adult head weighs between 10 to 12 pounds in neutral position. As we angle the neck for screen viewing, the forces seen by the neck increase to 60 pounds at that 60 degree angle.

An average of two to four hours a day is spent looking down at the computer or gazing at the smartphone screen. That’s about 700 to 1,400 misaligned hours per year. This position forces us into a head forward posture that places stress on the cervical and thoracic spine. It’s estimated that a high school student may spend even more time—an extra 5,000 hours—in poor posture.

Add to that, many popular exercise modalities may contribute to head-forward posture as well. Hunching over the handlebars in spin class and walking on the treadmill while reading both place the neck and spine in a compromised position.

It comes as no surprise then, that many of us are dealing with chronic neck and upper back pain, often accompanied by arm pain, tingling, and numbness. These stresses can lead to wear, tear and degeneration of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the cervical spine as well as pain and tenderness through the upper back and shoulder blades.

Standing up to take a break from texting as well as learning to hold the phone with the spine in a more natural curve both help to combat misalignment and the potential for more serious, chronic injury.

Stretching and strengthening also are crucial. Try the Doorway Stretch to counteract tight chest muscles caused by a rounded back. Stand in an open doorway or corner with both hands slightly above your head on the doorframe or wall. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders. Hold 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.

Two simple neck stretches also are helpful for easing neck pain.

Neck stretch: Gently lower your left ear towards your left shoulder. Hold for 10 to 15 deep breaths. Repeat on opposite side.

Neck rotation: Slowly turn your chin towards one shoulder. Hold for 10 to 15 deep breaths. Repeat on opposite side.

Remember, stretches for the neck should never be done to the point of pain or soreness.

Exercises to strengthen your core will help reestablish neutral posture. Rows and planks are excellent for building strength in the muscles of the upper and lower back that are so important to standing tall.

Rows: Wrap resistance tubing around an immovable object. Hold one end in each hand and bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Palms should face each other turned toward the midline of the body. Keep your forearms parallel to the floor. Pull the band and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Perform a set of 10 rows and then repeat one to three more sets.

Plank: Get into push-up position on the floor. Align the wrists below the shoulders with the hands shoulder-width apart. Your body should form a straight line from crown of head to heels. Keep your eyes on your hands or slightly beyond the fingertips to avoid dropping the head to look at the feet. Begin by holding this position for 10 seconds and build up to 60 as you get stronger. Modify this exercise by placing the forearms on the floor with the elbows directly under the shoulders.

There is plenty on social media these days to keep us glued to our tiny screens. The election cycle provides an endlessly fascinating look at human behavior punctuated by online holiday shopping. And of course, there’s ample opportunity to decide which superhero/cartoon character/snack food you most resemble. There also is little chance that this technology will go away.

Make an effort to keep your spine in neutral while looking at your phone and avoid spending hours each day hunched over. Stretch and strengthen to keep your back happy. Technology doesn’t have to be a pain in the neck.

Photo: ejbSF/Flickr