Are you beginning to feel pain, tension and stiffness in your neck, upper back and/or shoulders? Are you someone who spends 8+ hours a day using various tech devices for work and personal time? If you answered “yes” to either of these and feel chronic pain and tension, you might be experiencing what is being termed “tech neck.”
“Tech neck” is the forward shift of the head in front of the shoulders. The human head is designed to sit balanced over the shoulders with support from various neck, upper back and shoulder muscles. When the muscles are working in balance, a normal range of motion is present without pain. However, in our current everyday life, the head is often moving forward and down to look at handheld devices. This repetitive, and often long-term, pattern begins to create an imbalance in the muscles resulting in strain, tension and pain in the upper back, neck and shoulders.
Sitting at a computer, on a tablet, or texting on the smart phone is a modern way of life. Just like any repetitive motion creates wear and tear on the body so do the movement patterns associated with technology use. While the strain and pain that results from these movements are not favorable conditions, there is good news. Through a process of svadhyaya, or self-study, a person can begin to recognize the patterns of movement causing the pain, and they can do the balancing movement patterns to restore strength and stability to the muscles. Simple movements throughout the day can to help remind the body and brain of its natural state of ease. By doing these simple movements with awareness and attention:
1. The diaphragm will open up creating a greater capacity for deeper breath to return.2. The space around the heart will soften creating a resonance of kindness and compassion3. The tension and struggle of the muscles that support the head will return to a state of equanimity creating a greater sense of ease.
I invite you to give these simple movements a try 2-3 times throughout your day to help your body and mind live in a greater feeling of harmony and ease. Mark your calendar and be dedicated to see if after 10 days of regular attention you began to feel relief. When you do, don’t stop there. Just as you brush your teeth a couple of times a day to keep them healthy, keep these simple movements a part of your daily routine to keep your neck and shoulders healthy.
Seated twist in a chair
- Helps to create space around the diaphragm for better breathing and digestion.
- Helps to awaken core and spinal support muscles.
- Helps to release tension in muscles in upper chest and arms.
1. Sit on the edge of your chair with your spine straight and feet flat on the floor.
2. Inhale to prepare.
3. As you exhale, bring your left hand to your outer right thigh and twist your body to the right.
4. Move your right arm to the side arms or back edge of your chair and gently press for increased leverage.
5. Each inhalation, sit taller and stretch your spine.
6. Each exhalation, draw your belly inward and upward as you twist into the pose.
7. Continue these actions for 3-5 slow, balanced breaths.
8. Exhale and unwind to sit toward the front and pause for a few free breaths.
9. Set up pose and repeat on second side.
It’s important to remember that we aren’t going for something like the Exorcist twist. Don’t overdo it. Less is more with balanced breaths and focus. Find where your body is resisting and gradually let each breath take you softly into the resistance.
Bent elbow hand bind
- Helps to open tight muscles at front of shoulder from mousing, slouching and typing.
- Helps to stretch muscles around the ribs and on outer edge of shoulder blades (serratus muscles).
- Helps to strengthen muscles between shoulder blades to improve posture and breathing.
1. Stand, kneel or sit with space behind you for free movement of your arms.
2. Clasp fingers behind back just above the waste of your pants letting the thumbs rest on the low back.
3. Keeping elbows bent, take a slow breath in and sit up tall.
4. As you exhale, gently squeeze shoulder blades together on the back paying special attention to the bottom tips of the shoulder blades. If it is comfortable, you can take the thumbs off the lower back and press the hands away from the body.
5. With each in breath, draw the belly back and sit up tall.
6. With each out breath, draw the shoulder blades toward each other as you squeeze the upper arms and elbows together.
7. Hold for 4-5 rounds of slow breath and release.
8. Pause to feel the effects.
Be sure to keep the lower ribs grounded toward the hips so they do not jut forward. You can also use a strap or belt if it is difficult to clasp your fingers together. The important part is to work slowly with a focus on drawing the belly in, the spine up and the shoulder blades (especially the bottom tips) together on the back. Take your time and meet the natural resistance of your body with patience.
Re-align head over shoulders
- Helps strengthen neck muscles.
- Helps relax throat muscles.
- Releases tension around neck as head returns to natural alignment.
- Releases pain and strain from improper alignment.
1. Grab a block and put it behind your head.
2. Lean back into wall so block is held to wall by your head.
3. Take shoulders, hips and feet away from wall and move your arms down to your sides.
4. Lightly squeeze shoulder blades together into middle of back while simultaneously pressing the center chest toward the middle of the room.
5. Lightly press the head into the block while simultaneously trying to nod head toward floor so you feel a lift up through back of head on block. (It’s like you are trying to slide the back of your head upward).
6. Hold these actions and breath for 20-30 seconds.
7. Grab block and step off the wall to stand and pause. Your head will likely feel like it is floating upward off your shoulders like a helium balloon.
It’s important to remember that you are doing about 20% of what you could do as you engage the shoulder blades and press through the head. Remember, go for light engagement so don’t overdo it.
Not sure if you are doing these poses correctly? Contact Michelle at Inhale Yoga Studio to schedule a 35-minute private session. She is available for this and other private sessions, as you need. Contact her by email: email@example.com.
A few more tips for staying well at your desk or while working with your technology:
- Download an app to help remind you to get up and do these exercises. I like Eye Leo. Click here for the free download. You can customize the settings to give you small breaks throughout the hour for your eyes, as well as a longer break to incorporate the above three exercises to keep the upper back, neck and shoulders balanced.
- Can’t download apps to your work computer? Set daily reminders on your calendar like an appointment or incorporate these exercises into your bathroom breaks, lunch break, and the last thing you do before you leave work.