Americans are spending an average of six hours a day with digital media. We are on our smart phones at work, running errands, at restaurants and at home. This constant engagement with our phones, computers and TVs very often leads to stiff, sore necks and upper backs, limited mobility and even headaches. The problems of the cervical spine created by these issues are often called “tech neck” or “text neck.” Left unattended, tech neck can lead to more serious musculoskeletal problems over time.
Aside from taking long and frequent breaks from technology when possible, we actually have to move and strengthen the areas affected by our use of digital devices. Here, our own Holly Dybas, PT, DPT, shows us some exercises and tips to help stretch, lengthen and strengthen the neck and upper back, providing support and pain relief for the technology-addicted! As physical therapists, our patients present with these issues every day.
On our devices, we often sit slouched with our shoulders rounded and our neck sticking forward. When we sit in this posture, the deep muscles of our neck weaken and the muscles of our shoulder blades also become weak. When we don’t remember good posture, we are not keeping these muscles engaged, which contributes to their weakness.
At the same time, our rounded shoulders contribute to tightened pecs and our neck has to compensate into extension to keep our eyes level, contributing to tight suboccipitals (neck muscles right below the back of our skull). Tech neck is essentially the same thing as Upper Crossed Syndrome (see our article on Lower Crossed Syndrome, here) where we have a pattern of weak muscles and tight muscles.
When performing these exercises, stop if you experience pain. Stretching and exercising might sometimes be uncomfortable, but it should never be painful!
- Snow angel/Wall angel: Back against the wall. Arms against wall (if able) as you bring your arms up overhead. Make sure to keep your shoulder blades squeezed together and chin tucked in.
- Quadruped chin tuck: First focus on squeezing shoulder blades in as elbows are bent. As you straighten out your elbows round your shoulder blades on your spine. Make sure to isolate movement at shoulder blades versus rounding your whole back. If you can isolate this movement, add in chin tuck with strap as you go to round your shoulder blades against your back.
- Prone scapular squeeze: lay on your stomach with head resting on the ground and arms at your side. Depress your shoulder blades and squeeze together. Hold for ten seconds, for two sets of ten repetitions.