There’s no denying that technology has transformed the way we live, from how we communicate and share information to how we navigate through life (thank you, Google Maps!). In other words, we’re glued to our devices. In fact, according to recent research, people spend approximately five hours every day on their smartphone, computer or tablet. And it might be taking a toll on your body.
Chances are you’re looking down at your device to read this article — head forward, shoulders rounded and back slumped, putting yourself at risk for the aches and pains now known as ‘text neck.’ “You can stretch out and exhaust the paraspinal and upper back muscles from poor posture,” says Dr. Jonathan Stieber, orthopaedic spine surgeon and clinical assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the NYU School of Medicine. As the upper back rounds, the head and neck start to jut forward and out of alignment from your spine. No wonder your body hurts.
We know there’s no way you’re ditching your devices — so what can you do about the pain? Read on to find out.
How to Prevent Text Neck and Improve Your Posture
The Problem: Slouching
Your mother was right: Good posture matters. Pain related to technology use is often due to poor posture and ergonomics, according to Dr. Stieber. “When you’re sitting in front of your computer with a certain posture for hours on end, your body gets used to being in that position. It becomes your new normal,” says Ryan Balmes, DPT and board-certified clinical specialist in sports and orthopedic physical therapy in Atlanta. “Imagine if you’re arm wrestling all day. Your bicep muscles will be strained and they’re going to let you know that they are tired.”
Tilting your head forward 15 degrees places an additional 27 pounds of stress on the cervical spine.
While you usually don’t see severe problems like herniated disks or pinched nerves resulting solely from overuse of technology, Dr. Stieber says it can exacerbate an underlying condition. And be careful when you go for your weekend run or CrossFit WOD. “Your body may be shocked because you’re bringing it out of the position it’s accustomed to. You can be predisposed to injury,” says Balmes.
The fix: “Make sure you have the appropriate monitor, desk and chair height for you,” says Dr. Stieber. Can’t buy a new desk? “Keep your head is in a neutral position with your monitor at eye-level,” Balmes advises. “You want to have the height of the chair so that your feet can rest comfortably on the floor and your knees are at or just below [the level of] your hips.”
Sitting up straight might not come naturally at first. “[It] requires diligence, but more importantly, practice,” says Balmes. “As with all things, active practice will help solidify proper posture as habit.” One sign you’re not doing it right: “If anything in your body feels achy or uncomfortable after prolonged use, it’s your body’s way of screaming at you to change position and find a better one because it’s struggling to make your current posture work,” he says.
Frequent breaks from the screen can help, even if it’s just two minutes every hour. “Use the breaks as a reset.” says Balmes. “Set reminders on your phone or computer or use a Post-It note. These small cues can make a huge difference.”
The Problem: Text Neck
If you’re one of the 64 percent of American adults who owns a smartphone, look up now. Recent research from Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, found that staring down at your phone can put incredible pressure on your neck and spine. Tilting your head forward 15 degrees places an additional 27 pounds of stress on the cervical spine. A 60-degree angle — the angle at which most of us view our phones — increases that stress to 60 pounds. That’s like carrying around a seven-year-old on your neck. Tablets also encourage you to flex your head forward. And, with bigger screens, you’re more likely to stay in that position for longer periods of time, according to Balmes.
The fix: The easiest way to address text neck is to change the way you hold your phone. “Bring the screen to eye level so your head is not slouched forward or too high,” says Balmes. “This way, you don’t have to be in a forward-head posture for a prolonged period of time.” When using a tablet, Balmes recommends buying a case that allows you to prop up the tablet on a table. To prevent stiffness in the neck, Balmes recommends neck rotations – look gently to the left and right, 10 times on each side. Try to perform these every hour throughout the day.
3 Posture Exercises to Balance Your Muscles
Strengthening and stretching your muscles may also help alleviate some of that nagging pain. While a visit to a physical therapist can help guide your specific needs, Balmes recommends these three quick exercises to help combat technology-induced slump.
1. Shoulder Blade Pinches
This move will help to strengthen the muscles of the upper back, which tend to get lengthened and weakened when you slouch.
How to: While sitting or standing straight, pinch your shoulder blades together and back. You’ll feel the front of your shoulders roll back. Hold for a few seconds, release and repeat. Perform 10 reps every hour throughout the day.
2. Pec Stretch
While slouching results in overstretched and feeble upper back muscles, it also leads to short and weak pecs, according to Balmes.
How to: Stand in a doorway and place your forearms against the frame of the door, with your elbows at shoulder height. With one foot forward, draw your shoulder blades together on your back and gently lean into the door. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then repeat once more. Perform this stretch three to four times a day.
3. Chin Tuck
A double chin may be a selfie no-no, but it can be good for your posture. Chin tucks strengthen the neck muscles and help you pull your head back into alignment.
How to: Sit up tall in a chair and keep your chin parallel to the floor. Without tilting your head in any direction, gently draw your head and chin back, like you’re making a double chin. Be careful not to jam your head back. You should feel a stretch along the back of the next. Release your chin forward. Repeat. You can perform 10 reps every hour throughout the day.
While the best advice is to take frequent breaks from your computer or cell phone, these exercises, along with improving your posture, are good preventative measures. “If this doesn’t relieve your pain, know that your problem may be more serious and seek out a physical therapist,” says Balmes.