Occasionally tilting your head toward the ground is, you know, normal, given that the neck is supposed to tilt, twist, and bend. But the explosion in smartphone use over the past several years has meant more people looking downward, and more often. It's not just annoying if you're trying to walk down the street -- research has found that constantly looking at your phone can put up to 60lbs of extra force on your spine, leading to the dreaded condition known as "text neck."
If you don't want a life of headaches and spinal pain, the best option is to hold your phone directly in front of you while using it. Since you're probably not going to start walking down the street while holding your smartphone directly in front of your face, you should at least try to counteract the problem and start incorporating these four exercises into your daily routine.
Jeff Miller, a personal trainer with more than 20 years experience in the fitness industry, points out that "text neck" is part of a bigger set of problems that he terms "screen slouch," explaining, "The slouch really starts in the knees, kicks in at the hips, and gets really bad by the time you get to your shoulders and neck." Because text neck, ultimately, affects your entire body, he suggests starting with an exercise that emphasizes proper posture: the good ol' chair squat.
Stand directly in front of a sturdy chair with your feet shoulder-distance apart, your arms at your sides. Keeping your spine straight, your shoulders pulled back, and your chest lifted, press your hips back and bend your knees to sit down in the chair. Tap your butt lightly on the chair, then reverse the movement and stand up, again keeping your core engaged and your spine straight. Perform three sets of six to 10 squats. You can disperse these throughout the day as you see fit.
To counteract the inevitable shoulder-hunch associated with texting, Miller suggests adding three sets of resistance-band rows. Simply anchor the resistance band around something sturdy -- a signpost, column, door handle, or heavy piece of furniture -- and back up so the tubing is pulled taut, but not tight.
Extend your arms fully in front of your body, position your feet shoulder-distance apart, and bend your knees slightly. Roll your shoulders backward, then pull both elbows in toward your body, bending them to 90 degrees, in a rowing motion. Reverse the movement and steadily extend your arms fully. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, really squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull the band toward you.
Rachel Girrens, DC, a chiropractor who owns the ICT Muscle & Joint Clinic in Wichita, Kansas, offers the very simple chin-tuck exercise as a way to strengthen the deep neck flexor muscles. The great thing is that you can literally do this super-simple exercise anywhere -- at your desk, in the car, wherever. Girrens says, "If you feel your chin jutting forward while sitting, take 20 seconds to do 10 chin tucks."
All you have to do is use your neck muscles to pull your head and chin back toward your neck to create a "double chin." At the same time, imagine someone is pulling you tall with a string attached to your head. It may look and feel a little weird, but it's a great way to strengthen your neck and relieve text neck-related pressure.
Foam roll your mid- to upper back
Girrens points out that the second way to counteract text neck is to encourage the opposite range of motion, or extension. In other words, if you're constantly hunching forward to stare at your phone, you need to do exercises that encourage you to extend your back and neck, looking up and back while simultaneously stretching out your chest and shoulders.
The great thing about foam rolling is you get to enjoy all these key points while also releasing tension through your mid- to upper back. Girrens has two ways you can put a simple foam roller to use, "Lie on your back on the ground and place the foam roller under your mid-back, perpendicular to your spine, and simply roll slowly over it across the mid- to upper back, up to where your shoulders meet your neck."
Roll in this manner for a few minutes, shifting your weight from side to side as you see fit to target any knots or sore spots. Then, "place the foam roller parallel to your body, under your spine, and open your arms so they are allowed to rest toward the floor." Simply rest in this position, rocking gently from side to side, for about one to two minutes.
These exercises are appropriate for daily use, and you can knock them out in just a few minutes. I suggest doing them while watching TV. That is, assuming your TV is positioned somewhere you don't have to look down to see it.
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