Fitness column: ‘Tech neck’ sets off a chain of problems
I am seeing “tech neck” symptoms more and more frequently in new clients. Tech neck is a clever way to describe the chronic downward and forward position of our heads while gazing at electronic devices — which has arguably become the driving force behind poor posture. Combine this with endless sitting, and you have a deadly, evidence-based weapon to slowly cripple people.
The time we spend in this horrible posture combination is ever increasing, and it adds much more than normal tension to the entire structure of your body, not just your neck. Migraines, headaches, TMJ, the weird pain between the shoulders that makes you gasp for air are all likely to be tech neck posture related.
I have heard of many mathematical calculations to describe this phenomenon, but I like the “10 pounds of additional pressure to your midback for every inch your head is positioned forward” description best. Tech neck negatively affects the function of not only the neck but the shoulders, spine, hips and legs.
Nothing is isolated or contained in the human body. Symptoms always lead to other symptoms and side effects. You can’t impinge fascia along the chain and not create dysfunction somewhere else. Like a rock in your shoe, you’ll limp around it, changing your mechanics to make it happen and thus create dysfunction.
For example, the way we position our bodies to operate a mouse pulls us forward and rotates us awkwardly. This helps to pull your head and shoulders forward and to the right and causes even more of a lopsided biomechanical problem.
A little of this is not so bad, but the average American is spending much more time in front of our electronic devices, and upcoming generations know no different. I’m now seeing teenagers with neck and back problems that only older people used to experience only a generation ago.
Circulation of blood is absolutely crucial to all health. The tech neck position impairs proper blood flow to the head by straining muscles like the day is long.
Tech neck Solutions: The fix is just the reversal of the dysfunction.
• Set limits to electronic time, eliminating as much of it as you can. Replace with real stuff.
• Use a headset, a vertical mouse and speaker phone if possible.
• Chiropractic adjustments.
• Hire someone who understands biomechanics to teach you a corrective exercise routine. Strengthen yourself into extension — strengthen the muscles that pull you back into good posture.
• Mobilize your tissue: Detailed mobilization is trendy jargon for tenderizing your muscles and fascia through many methods. Remember that muscles in the front of you, (scalenes and SCM in the neck, and pec, pec minor, biceps and psoas), become short and neurologically frozen in a shortened position. You must free it up by massaging it, smooshing it, squeezing it, rolling it, deep tissue massaging it and lymphatic massaging it to increase circulation and lymphatic function.
• Set up your work station better with your monitor, mouse and chair at the correct height.
• Invest in a standing work station and hire the same biomechanical expert to teach you how to stand and lift correctly.
• Strengthen yourself with resistance training that pulls you into extension.
• Stop working out with your phone — MP3 players and bluetooth headphones offer less distractions.
Yes, it’s a little more complicated than that, but creating your own routine to fix this problem is certainly doable for any novice with a little training and education.
Steve Wells is a personal trainer and co-owner of Midland Fitness. His column appears on Tuesdays.
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