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‘Text Neck’ Can Happen To Anyone—Here Are Four PT-Approved Stretches

Screen time is almost entirely unavoidable these days, and one result is colloquially known as “text neck” or “tech neck.” This refers to the neck and back strain that comes from bending your head down to look at your device. Text neck can happen when doing an activity that forces you to lower your head. It’s not just a result of aggressive screentime. Making art, hovering over a laptop, or reading a book can cause a droop in posture, as well.

Screens are a part of life, so there is no judgment here if you’re dealing with text neck. However, proactive changes—like stretching, paying attention to your posture, and, well, noticing your screen time—can better protect you from any uncomfortable effects, Candace Morton, PT, DPT, clinic director at ProRehab Physical Therapy in Louisville, Kentucky, says.

What is text neck

The neck naturally curves in the shape of a backward “C,” but when we lean forward and bend our head downwards, we may lose this shape, says Rami Hashish DPT, PhD, a specialist in biomechanics, body performance and injury expert. If we do this regularly, we can alter the resting position of our neck such that the backward “C” becomes relatively flattened or inverted.

The physics that occurs when you lower your head to look at your phone are kind of shocking. A 2014 study published in Surgical Technology International measured what happens to your spine when you lower your head. Researchers found that tilting your head at a 45-degree angle increases the weight to 48.5 lbs (22 kg). That’s more than triple the weight of your head when it’s in a neutral position. Over time, this can cause your muscles to tighten, round your posture, Dr. Hashish says.

4 “text neck” stretches that can help

The good news is that you can combat text neck with intentional changes. To alleviate text neck specifically, Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, a board-certified physical therapist specializing in outpatient rehabilitation at Holy Name Medical Center, recommends stretching your upper trapezius and levator scapulae—the muscles on the left and right sides of your neck that are in charge of lowering and raising your head. She says this should help improve your neck alignment and decrease muscle tightness.

Still, if you’ve ever corrected your posture and tried to hold it for as long as you could, you’re probably aware of how uncomfortable that can be. This is because you have to have the strength in your muscles to hold the correct posture. Combining stretches and strength training can help your posture the most because you can increase mobility and physical capability of staying in a particular position, says Dr. Hashish. Below you’ll find a few stretches that can help:

1. Chin tucks

“Chin tuck exercises where you retract your head and neck backward can help improve your neck alignment and posture,” Dr. Gasnick says. You can practice chin tucks at your desk or try to assess their efficacy by standing flat against a wall and making the motion. This can help you understand what it feels like when standing completely straight (the wall can act as a guide).

2. Upper trapezius stretch

Sit on a chair with one hand holding the edge of your seat. Place your other hand on top of your head, with fingertips grazing your opposite ear. Dr. Gasnick recommends you slowly tilt your head towards your shoulder, away from your anchoring arm. Rotate your chin up towards the ceiling while you do this and hold. Apply pressure with your hand to feel the stretch, as needed.

3. Levator scapula stretch

Sit down and place one hand on the edge of your seat. Then bend your head away from the anchoring hand and toward the shoulder, Dr. Gasnick says. Rotate your chin towards your shoulder to hold the stretch.

4. Scapular retractions

Start seated and place your hands on your hips. Round your upper back and allow your
shoulders and arms to fall forward. Then, squeeze your shoulder blades together, slowly, as if you are trying to make them touch (they don’t need to touch, though). Dr. Gasnick adds that you should keep your shoulders pressed down and away from the ears at all times. Do this slowly and repeat.

When is it time to consult a doctor

Consider scheduling an appointment with a medical professional if you start having persistent pain that is difficult to manage independently, Dr. Gasnick says. Also, contact your doctor if you develop headaches that worsen when looking down.

If you have text neck and want to change your posture, Dr. Gasnick implores you to start slowly. If you try to correct your posture by aggressively stretching yourself in the opposite direction. Work slowly and progressively on stretching the areas of your neck and spine that are stiff.

Last but certainly not least, these experts recommend that you also cater your environment to your posture needs. This means that you should keep your screens at eye level and consider acquiring an ergonomic desk chair and keyboard.

Sometimes discussions of good posture can have a twinge of morality (I remember when my Nintendo Wii Fit told me I had poor posture—I felt like a bad person as a result). But posture isn’t a character flaw, and we need screens for almost any modern activity. So if you’re dealing with text neck and feel inclined to make some changes, be slow and gentle with yourself. The best thing you can do is use the tools available to you to protect your precious neck and noggin.

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