It’s a familiar situation for any smartphone user: you hear a notification sound letting you know you’ve received a text message; you pull your phone out, tipping your head down to read the message and respond to it; then you put your device away and straighten up. The whole process only takes a few moments, and yet, over the course of an entire day, all those seconds could be adding up to a real pain in the neck.
On average, smartphone users spend between two and four hours every day looking at their phones with their heads dropped down. That translates to 700 to 1,400 hours per year of extra strain on the neck and spine, which has given rise to the latest tech-induced ailment: “text neck.” Like “texting thumb,” text neck is a repetitive stress injury that develops from the hunched-over posture most people adopt when looking down at their mobile devices. In this case, a big part of what’s causing the problem is the fact that as the forward tilt of the head increases, so does its effective weight. In other words, although your head only weighs about 10 or 12 pounds when you’re in a fully upright posture, by the time you’ve dropped it down to a 45-degree angle, it’s placing nearly 50 pounds of additional pressure on your neck and spine.
With this level of pressure being repeatedly placed on the spine for prolonged periods, day after day, it’s hardly surprising that many people begin to develop pain and numbness in the head, neck, and upper arms. While these typical text-neck symptoms can be mild at first, they may eventually lead to chronic pain, unpredictable muscle spasms, and even a pinched cervical nerve that can damage sensation all down the arm and hand. To relieve these symptoms, try the following exercises and stretches:
A chin-tuck exercise can help loosen and mobilize vertebrae in your neck that may have become stiff or stuck in the forward-leaning position. To begin, sit up straight, with your back and neck aligned and your head resting lightly on top of your cervical spine. Put a finger on your chin, and push your chin down until it’s tucked all the way back toward your spine, as far as it can go without causing pain or discomfort. Hold for a few seconds, then drop your finger and move your chin forward again until your head is back in its original position. Repeat this exercise 10 times.
Frequent stretching can help lengthen tight muscles and relieve stress and strain in your neck. Starting in the neutral-posture position described above, drop your right ear towards your right shoulder until your head is angled as far as it can comfortably go; you should feel a stretch all along the left side of your neck. To deepen the stretch, place your right hand lightly on the left side of your head. Hold for 10 seconds, then release your hand and slowly bring your head back up to the neutral starting posture. Repeat on the other side.
This simple pectoral stretch helps to open up your shoulders and counteract some of the effects of hunching forwards. Stand against a wall, facing it, and stretch your arm away from you at shoulder height, reaching perpendicular to your body and keeping your palm and chest flat against the wall. Then, turn away from your arm until you feel a stretch in your front pectoral muscle (your arm should now be reaching away behind you). Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. If you don’t have a clear area of wall upon which to do this stretch, link both your hands behind your back, and pull your arms away from your body as you gently lift your linked hands away from the floor: you should feel the front of your shoulders stretching and opening.
This is another useful wall-based exercise to help strengthen the shoulder muscles that support your head and neck. Stand with your head, back, and heels flat against a wall (your feet should be comfortably hip-width apart). Place your arms against the wall with your palms facing outwards, and slowly move your arms up and down, sliding them along the wall. Keep moving your arms for 30 seconds to one minute.
Lie on your stomach on the floor with your hands positioned palm down next to your shoulders (your elbows should be bent). Gently lift your head away from the floor, supporting the weight of your upper body with your arms and reaching toward the ceiling with the top of your head. Be careful not to tip your head back so far that you feel compression in your neck. Hold the position for a few moments, and then lower your head. Repeat five times.