I don’t even flinch anymore when I see someone crossing a busy intersection typing on their cell phone. I just “heart” whatever Instagram pic I’m looking at and cross the street myself.
This is the new normal: smartphones at the center of our lives. Of course, technology can be amazing. Yesterday I edited a yoga video on my phone while riding the bus. The bad news is that constantly hunching over these devices is destroying our posture.
In 2008, the term “text neck” was coined by a doctor to describe the phenomenon. Just by looking at people around the office, on the street, or at the bar, it’s clear it’s become a national epidemic. According to research, your head weighs about 10 pounds in a neutral position. But if you move it forward just 15 degrees, it feels more like 27 pounds to your neck. At 30 degrees, it feels like 40 pounds, and at 45 degrees, almost 50 pounds. Ouch.
The result: muscle strain, pinched nerves, herniated disks, painful headaches, and more. And as our phones evolve into mini-computers, we’re glued to them for hours—up to four per day, research suggests. This adds up to 700 to 1,400 hours per year—and up to 5,000 for high schoolers, who are most at risk for developing spinal issues and even needing surgery, experts say.
The good news? Doing some simple stretches can help you eliminate the pain and strain on your neck and spine. Even better, you don’t need a yoga mat, yoga clothes, or even the willpower to stand up—you can do these seated at your desk right now! In addition to the feel-good stretches in the video, check out my other tips to avoid neck pain below. And remember, prevention is the best cure.
1. Paint a mental picture.
Imagine your palm and the back of your neck (where your hairline meets your neck) are connected. When you feel your cell phone in your palm, think about drawing your head back in space. Train yourself to feel this connection, and you’ll avoid text neck naturally.
2. Look with your eyes.
This may feel weird, but try to look down at your phone with just your eyes, keeping your head and chin back.
3. Think “text and press.”
As you text, think about pressing your head back into an imaginary wall behind you. This will keep your head in alignment with your shoulders and hips.
4. Befriend Siri.
Most modern phones have incredible speech-to-text capabilities that even work within social apps, essentially eliminating the need to type at all. Next time you’re writing a witty comment, stand up straight and dictate your remarks instead.
5. Prioritize your tasks.
Just because I can edit a movie on my iPhone doesn’t mean I should. Think about your to-do list and which tasks are best suited for your phone compared to your PC, placed nicely at eye level.
6. Stand against a wall.
Need a quick readjustment? At the office or at home, position yourself against wall you can press your whole spine against (including your head). This keeps your vertebrae aligned and forces you to raise your arm and hold your phone up to your face, instead of looking down.
7. Utilize armrests.
Anytime you’re sitting in a chair with armrests, put your elbow on one to hold your phone up to your face. This is so much better than having your hand and phone in your lap, which forces you to look down.
8. Take a time-out.
Put your phone in your pocket. Stand or take a walk with your hands interlaced behind your back in a fist (as shown below). Think of drawing that fist down and back to open your chest and shoulders as you stroll, forcing yourself to take a mandatory cell-phone break and mini-stretch at the same time.
Brett Larkin teaches vinyasa flow yoga at top San Francisco studios and on her YouTube channel, where thousands of students have studied with her for more than 5 million minutes. Find free yoga playlists, yoga teacher training tips, and free dance, yoga, and meditation classes at BrettLarkin.com.