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How to cure your ‘tech neck’ - 5 quick steps to relieving neck tension

In the second of her 'Head to Toe' columns for The Court Circular, Debbie Dore shares some moves that can help soothe away the terrible tech neck...

Pretty much all of us have been spending more time in front of a screen during lockdown whether it’s binging a Netflix box set or fulfilling the demands of your job at your computer. Tech neck or text neck (if you're constantly on your smartphone) is a term used to describe when you end up in a position with your head leaning forwards and down. This causes excess pressure on the muscles and joints in the neck and shoulders and often results in stiffness, pain and headaches.

Why does this happen?

Ideally, our head will be balanced directly over our shoulders, where the centre of our ear is roughly in line with the centre of the shoulders. Our head weighs roughly, 5kg or 11lbs.....that’s more than a newborn baby!

Our heads are held in an optimal alignment and balance by around twenty muscles that surround the seven neck vertebrae. However, in our frontward facing world as we use screens & mobile devices, our heads move in advance of our shoulders. As this happens, our heads become progressively heavier. By the time your head is at a 30 degree angle (think walking along looking at your phone......we’ve all done it!), your head weighs around 40lbs! The muscles in the neck & shoulders begin to complain, creating stiffness and tension. This added pressure on the muscles also creates potential long term wear and tear to the discs and vertebrae of the neck.

What can I do?

The following exercises & mobilisations will help to lengthen the overactive, tight muscles & strengthen the lengthened & weak ones. Perform them in order, always beginning with a slight head retraction to feel maximum benefit. Each exercise builds on the previous one.

Alternatively, take a look at the video below where I demonstrate a short routine featuring each of these exercises. In the clip, I have demonstrated the moves in a seated position but they can also be completed lying down. It’s often my client’s favourite part of the class and they often comment that they didn’t realise quite how much tension they were holding in their necks!

Head Retractions - Place your finger on your chin and allow your head to jut forward. Now draw your chin away from your fingertip without lifting or dropping it down.....imagine pressing your head back into the headrest in your car. Feel how the back of the neck is gently stretching and although you may not feel this, the muscles on the front of the neck are strengthening.

Head Drops - Continue with the head retraction movement above and add a dropping of the chin to the chest. You will feel an increased stretch to the muscles in the back of the neck.

Head Turns - Drawing the chin back, rotate the head to look over your shoulder then return to centre. To accentuate the stretch place your opposite hand behind your back in order to draw the shoulder back. This will create an anchor point to stretch from.

Head Turn & Drop to the Diagonal - Continue with the movement above, but as you turn your head to the side to look over your shoulder, drop your chin toward your underarm. The stretch will be more into one side of the neck and possibly down into the shoulder blade, depending on your level of tension. The opposite hand can be placed behind the back again to accentuate the stretch.

SCM Stretch - Finally, once you have finished the above stretch, as you drop your head to your underarm, gently rotate your chin outward a small amount and turn your gaze to look diagonally upward ( as if you are looking out from underneath your eyelids). The stretch sensation will move so that you now feel it from underneath your ear toward the top of your collarbone. This is often a very tense area.

All of the exercises can be performed for 5-10 repetitions or as comfortable.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, you will need to practice these on a daily basis (several times, if possible) in order to counter the tension of prolonged screen use and realign your head and neck posture. A regular practice will pay dividends.

If your symptoms continue or get worse, please consult your doctor or local musculoskeletal professional for a closer examination of your individual case.

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