Modern technology has a twofold effect on us. We love it because it makes us more connected by giving us instant information and entertainment. We hate it because it can be a source of stress and unfortunately it can make us do the one thing our body hates; sitting, and in a slumped over position to boot! Smartphones, for instance, cause most users to position the head forward and in an unnatural downward angle. This technology-based posture has become so common that health professionals have a special term for it – “Text Neck.”
This poor technology posture can cause the shoulders as well as the head to roll forward. This will in turn, create a tight and weak upper back and chest. When the scalene, sternocleidomastoid and pec minor muscles become tight or shortened they bring the head in a forward tilted position. Imagine, if you will, holding a 12-pound bowling ball straight out in front of you. What starts to happen? Your upper back and arms will start to ache and perhaps the lower back as well. Now imagine holding that same ball close to your chest. I bet you any amount of money, all of us no matter what our strength level is, can hold that ball a lot longer than when it was out in front of you. This is due to the affect of your center of gravity and how it works in coloration to the weight you are carrying. The closer a weight is to the physiological center of your body, the less it will seem to weigh. Without getting too far into physics and mechanical kinesiology, trust me when I tell you that your body works more flawlessly when this principle is in place. (see image below for a visual of what I am trying to convey). The average human head weighs about 12 pounds—but for every inch the head hangs forward, the amount of weight put on the spine increases by 10 pounds, a statistic attributed to I.A. Kapandji, M.D., in his book, The Physiology of the Joints: The Trunk and the Vertebral Column, and used widely by health professionals to illustrate the dangers of forward-head posture.
*image portrays how heavy your head feels in coloration to its position.
When your scalene, sternocleidomastoid and pec minor muscles (just a few, among others in the upper back and neck/chest) are tight, due to forward head positioning or slumping, your head become unbearably heavy. Imagine what this does for your spine and all the postural stabilizing muscles! This is why modern technology is making us tight, sore, can cause TMJ issues, headaches, nerve entrapment syndrome and tingling/pain in the arms, to name just a few ailments. The stress that forward head tilt causes can lead to an unnaturally straight spine or even a forward curve of the cervical (neck) spine. Early onset of wear, tear and possible degeneration of the spine can occur therefore leading to a spinal surgery to try to fix this problem.
“Anyone who has spent much time on a computer, cellphone, tablet or other advanced electronic device has surely experienced the discomfort of poor body mechanics and repetitive straining,” manual therapy specialist Rick Bates, L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., C.F.T., told MASSAGE Magazine.
“These problems are not limited to the neck, as more and more people seek relief from shoulder, arms, wrists, hands, low-back and hip pain,” added Bates, who is an elite trainer with the International Sports Sciences Association and also holds credentials in exercise therapy and nutrition.
Texting or surfing the Internet for the average American is 4.9 hours every day—Yikes!!!
Short of never picking up a smartphone or working with technology again (which we all know will NEVER happen), what can we do to combat this new phenomenon called ‘tech neck’? Muscles, ligaments and tendons all benefit from massage. Increasing muscle strength and muscle elasticity (stretching or foam rolling) as well as combating daily emotional stress can also be helpful.
Small ‘at home’ steps can be taken to combat the stressors of everyday technology use as well.
Decrease the amount of downward head tilt you do
Try to set up your screen at eye level. If you are binge watching Netflix or Hulu (not intended to be a plug; we all pretty much know these venues), see if you are able to prop your screen up at eye level so you can sit comfortably without holding your arms up or look down at the screen. Take turns elevating your phone up to eye level with locking your elbows at your sides so as to hold the screen as close to you as possible without tucking your chin to your chest. Perhaps you can sit at a table and prop your arms on the table top in order to get the screen of your phone higher with little effort of holding it.
Realize just how much time you are spending in one spot or one position
I have heard of a 20-20-20 rule. Set a timer, every 20 minutes take a 20 second break to walk 20 feet away from whatever screen you are at. Set an egg timer for kids! After an hour of screen time (whatever screen that may be). They have to get up and walk around the house for 10-20 minutes. Every break you take, you can consume a glass of water. Shorter breaks, shorter glasses (otherwise you might be making the 20 minutes a bathroom break!) Same goes with kids!!!! It is important for everyone to consume water, not just adults. Helpful tip: Try to avoid trips every 20 minutes to the refrigerator!
Whether including just a simple stretch or two into your daily routine or implementing some yoga, stretches help! It is easy to do simple door stretching or back stretches at work.
Let’s start low and go high!
If you are on a rolling chair, please anchor it to the wall so you do not have a work accident! Then, plant your heels firmly on the ground, lean forward (with slightly bent knees) and try to touch your toes. Only go as far as your legs will allow. You should never feel pain or light headedness when doing this. Hold steady (NOOOO bouncing) for a slow count of 30, sit up, take a deep breath and as you blow out, reach for your toes again. Do this another time and on the third return to seated position, after you inhale and exhalation, point and flex your toes, both feet (probably not at the same time; might be difficult) three times.
In the same seated position, put one arm straight over your head and bend elbow over your head holding it with your other arm, lean to the side slightly until you feel a stretch down your arm and side. Hold for 30 seconds while deep breathing. Repeat three times on each side.
Find a doorway. Place both palms on either side of the doorway with your elbows at shoulder level. Place the balls of your feet on the floor directly in the middle of the door frame. Try to contract your stomach toward your spine as you push your chest through the doorway. You should ONLY feel this stretch in your chest, not your abdomen or low back. You can progressively move your palms up the door frame until you are toward the top of the frame; this stretches all parts of your chest. Do not place your palms on the top of the door frame (if you can reach it) this only hyperextends your low back with no real purpose or goal.
Back to the chair. Sit on the backside of your hand, not the palm. One arm at a time, stretch your head away from the hand you are sitting on, trying to bring your ear to your shoulder. Be sure that your stretched side shoulder is dropped and not up around your earlobes while doing this. Repeat on the other side. Next the front of the neck. In this same position, stretch this time like you are trying to see something in the air behind you in a 45-degree angle (half way between your spine and shoulder). Only stretch as far as you can comfortably, NO pushing yourself! While in this position slowly jet your chin forward like you are trying to make your lower teeth come way in front of your top teeth. You should feel this stretch all in the front of your neck.
All these stretches are ones that are a quick easy break from your desk or television, tablet, or smartphone. Here is one foam roller stretch you can do at home!
Lay vertically on the foam roller like the lady pictured above. I would personally position yourself so your head is off the top of the roller a little more. Imagine if she was doing this in the picture her head will be down farther and it would look like her spine was perfectly straight from the side. Now with your hands starting down at your side take a deep breath and drag the backside (not palm) of your hand along the floor until your thumbs meet above your head. If they do not meet, that is ok, just bring them as far up as possible. As you exhale follow the same path with your hands until you are at your starting point at your sides again. This will teach you to breath slowly, which is very relaxing (meditative even) to your body. This also opens up your chest and abdomen!
*as a side not; you can give yourself a bear hug and roll slightly on either side of your spine giving your paraspinal muscles a little massage as well!!
Last but not least:
And, of course, everyone’s favorite (or least favorite) suggestion is to cut back on your use of technology. Find a way to keep track of your use or to remind yourself when it’s time to quit, even as simple as keeping a “technology log” to show yourself how much time you really spend distracted. Jot down your week’s usage; whether it’s necessary time (perhaps for work) or frivolous time (hello, social media) and analyze how much time you’d feel comfortable cutting it back to. Are there times that you could be spending more time on your health or with your family??? Isn’t that the more important part of your life?!
Oh!!!! And remember! I am always here to help you with your health-related needs. If you need massage to help reduce knots and recharge or even to show you all those stretches I just mentioned or even show you specific exercises/stretches that may help you personally? Call me anytime! I am here to help!!!