Pain in the Neck (text neck)

Pain in the Neck: Counteracting Text Neck

We’ve all seen it—a family out to dinner with children. The kids (and frequently the adults as well) have their heads bent, engrossed in their cell phones, and there is very little conversation happening at the table. As much as cell phones are a boon, our over-reliance on them make it all too easy to ignore the people we are with in favor of a digital community. Besides inhibiting social engagement, excessive cell phone usage has the potential to alter our anatomy and affect our health. 

USA Today (June 2019) reported on an Australian study in which researchers examined hundreds of X-rays of adults ages 18-30. They observed that about half had bone growths at the back of their heads that resembled “horns.” The researchers attributed the growths to excessive rounding of the upper back that typical occurs with cell phone usage. According to Physiopedia, an additional 10 pounds of force are placed on the muscles that support the neck for every inch the head moves forward.*

Nicknamed “text” or “tech” neck, excessive rounding of the thoracic spine or Forward Head Posture (FHP), is linked to many common health issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder pain and eye strain. The additional weight affects our spine as well as the entire body in a host of ways:

  • Pulls the entire spine out of alignment;
  • Strains the muscles, tendons and ligaments of neck, spine, and shoulders. The result is they have to work harder and can become inflamed and sore;
  • Contributes to headaches;
  • Reduces lung capacity up to 30% because the ribs cannot expand properly;
  • Affects the digestive system, particularly the large intestine and bowels;
  • Reduces blood circulation and increase strain on the heart.

We aren’t going to throw our cell phones away, so what can we do? Technology is here to stay, but there are ways to counteract its not so desired effect on our bodies using your yoga practice– 

Axial extension – Focus on elongating the spine in standing poses, such as Mountain (Tadasana), Tree (Vriksasana) and Warrior I and II (Virabhadrasana I and II) to reduce the compression of the cervical and thoracic vertebrae.  

Heart Opening Poses – The muscles of the upper chest and shoulders become shortened and tight with FHP, effectually closing off the heart center. Practicing poses like Supported Fish (Matsyasana), Bridge (Setu Bandhasana) and Camel (Ustrasana) strengthen and expand the upper chest. When in these poses, focus on breathing into the chest to expand the lungs as you broaden through the collarbones.

Strengthening Upper Back – Many prone poses utilize the supporting muscles of the upper back, neck and spine which help to maintain good posture. Be sure to include prone poses that emphasize strengthening the upper back muscles like Locust (Salabhasana) and Cobra (Bhujangasana).

By strengthening the muscles of the upper back, elongating the spine and open the heart, you can increase flexibility in the upper back and encourage blood circulation to counteract the effects of text neck. Then again, you could put your phone down and look up once in a while, too. 

**Bonus: Here’s a short, seated practice to help release tension in your neck and upper back.