As technology evolves, we have problems to solve
Most of us are familiar with the concept of human evolution. In visual depictions, we can see that the physical sign of becoming human is attaining upright posture. Once humans reached the pinnacle of his (or her) height, he/she was able to think & analyze in higher levels of the brain.... thus began our journey into civilization & our ever expanding ideas & innovations. This eventually brought technology into our lives, and for the past 15 years, tech has been evolving exponentially! ....and we... have not. Unfortunately, our fancy electronics don't come with an ergonomic user manual. So if a sign of evolution is our head upright in standing posture, what does it mean that most people now have their heads down for most of the day?
"A good stance & posture reflect a proper state of mind."
- Morihei Ueshiba
What is "Tech Neck"?
"Tech Neck" is the term used to describe the effects of all the technology we use on our posture. Because our "tech toys" are usually in front of us and below eye level, we find ourselves looking down & reaching in front of us for a large part of the day. Remember as a kid, when people use to say "if you keep making that face, it'll get stuck that way?"
Our bodies are amazing at adapting, so when we continuously look down at our phones & computers, we will get stuck there!
Now to be honest, we do not solely have technology to blame for our posture issues... prior to the technology revolution, people with neck & upper back problems were often told they have "Upper Crossed Syndrome." This muscle imbalance presents as the upper trapezius, levator scapula, suboccipital & pectoralis muscles becoming too tight. This results in forward head carriage & rounded shoulders... the same signs we see in Tech Neck! Prior to phones & computers, humans were still looking down to read & write... and kids were carrying heavy school bags that forced them to hunch over. Perhaps one good effect tech has had on our posture is that kids don't have as many textbooks to lug around... however, now they often go home to play video games, watch TV or they're glued to their phones. So whatever you want to call it, it's happening & starting in childhood.
While many people are familiar with the neck tension/pain that this posture can cause, what they don't know is that it's also affecting their whole body function. The biggest reason for this is that when our shoulders round in, it decreases our lung's capacity to fill with oxygen, our most vital nutrient.
Try it yourself... sit up nice and tall and take in a full inhale. Then, slouch (rounding your shoulders) & take another inhale. You will find it's not as easy!
We can survive weeks without food & days without water, but how long without oxygen? Oxygen is needed to create energy in the body. We have about 25 trillion red blood cells (RBC) that need to deliver oxygen to over 50 trillion cells of the body. If we don't saturate our blood cells with oxygen, every other cell will have to function with less power and efficiency.
Tip of the "iceberg"
Tech Neck Signs: Forward head carriage & rounded shoulders
Tech Neck Symptoms: Neck &/or upper back pain/tension, Headaches, TMJ issues, decreased lung capacity & body oxygenation, poor focus & mental clarity
“For every inch of Forward Head Posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.”
-Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3
What is happening beneath the surface
As a chiropractor, I see that this issue is epidemic. I work in NYC and just looking around at the diverse population, I see heads down everywhere (and much unhappiness)! I frequently see patients with neck pain or upper back tension, and without fail, when I take a look at their x-rays, they have lost the "lordotic" curve in their cervical spine (neck). At the earlier stages, the neck appears straight, and as it progresses, the curve reverses and goes forward. This is a cause of concern because the loss of curve is a precursor to spinal degeneration, due to altered biomechanics & weight-bearing. After taking hundreds of x-rays (of people 18 and older), I have only seen about 2 necks that still have their curve! Clearly this curve crisis is epidemic, & it is vital that our population is educated on prevention & correction.
Why does degeneration happen?
Degeneration is said to be a "normal" sign of aging...but why then is it only seen in some older people, not all?
Rather than blame age, which is out of our control, you can blame lack of joint movement and improper weight distribution in the spine. To make it simpler... let's start with the concept:
Movement is life, and motion is like lotion.
...heard that quote in a yoga class & loved it!
How about the line, "if you don't use it, you'll lose it"?
Your body's ability to move hinges on your joints! An adult spine consists of about 24 separate bones that must stack on one another, like puzzle pieces. Since each vertebrae has two "facets" to connect to its neighbors' facets, there are 48 joints in total that must line up. Alignment of this structure ensures that our spinal cord & all of the nerves that come off it have a clear, open pathway to get where they need to go. This is vital to the health & function of every cell, tissue & organ of our body. Nerve flow is life energy!
What keeps a joint healthy is movement in its full range of motion. The joints of the spine are called "synovial joints" because they are each surrounded by a capsule filled with synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the joint & contains nutrients for the bone and disc (which do not have their own blood supply). Since everything in the body needs to be recycled & replenished, joint movement pumps old fluid out & new fluid in.
When a joint gets "stiff" or "restricted," it's not getting the nutrients needed to stay healthy & can degenerate.
We don't want degeneration anywhere in our bodies, but particularly the spine, since in contains & protects our neurological system. Have you ever heard of a spine transplant? While we can replace hips, knees, shoulders, etc, we only get one spine, so we must take care of it throughout our lives, especially as it affects the rest of our body function!
“90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine”
- Dr. Roger Sperry, (Nobel Prize Recipient for Brain Research)
The founder of chiropractic, D.D Palmer, asserted that the causes of spinal "misalignments" are physical, chemical & mental trauma/stress.
So from the way in which you were born (sometimes very stressful on a baby's neck & body) to the various bumps & falls, accidents, nights of sleeping "funny", heavy pocketbooks, chemical-laden processed foods, years upon years of sitting for school & work, frustrating family members, debt, bills, etc, etc...and now overuse of technology.. our poor bodies have taken some abuse!
What you can do about it
Attention to prevention is the best thing you can do, so people should adopt these changes whether they have pain or not. These are things we should be teaching our children, like teeth brushing, so they can avoid problems later on, thus some consider this practice "spinal hygiene."
"We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, therefore, is not a virtue but a habit." - Aristotle
Firstly, take regular breaks when working at a computer or desk (about every 20 minutes)..
Every so often, overlap your hands behind your neck & let your head extend back... Maybe give yourself a little massage while you're back there...
Stand up, move around, tune in to your body & stretch what feels tight, while taking several full, deep breathes.
Lengthen & Strengthen
STRETCH: Pecs, SCM, Upper Trapezius, Levator Scapula
Stretching is just as, if not more, important than brushing. Ideally stretch the whole body, but in particular, the over-tight muscles. Everyone is different, so it is ideal to see a body practitioner for stretches that are tailored to your body & needs. However, anyone who does desk/tech work will benefit from stretching their pec muscles DAILY!
My favorite stretch to recommend are "Doorway Stretches" for the chest muscles.
STRENGTHEN: Core, Rhomboids, Lower trapezius, Deep Neck Flexors
I give a lot of posture advice, with the disclaimer that if you must focus on only one thing, work on your core. For years I struggled to keep my shoulders back like my grandma told me... I would always get tired and resume slouching. Thankfully, I discovered the significance of core strength.. all I had ever wanted from core workouts were 6-pack abs! Well, I still haven't achieved that, however, my posture has much improved! When I'm sitting (or standing) with the focus on keeping my core strong, my shoulders & head are naturally more upright.
So get planking! :-)
To strengthen your back muscles, try "Wall Angels," "the Hummingbird," & Chin Retraction Exercises.
Images and videos demonstrating exercises are to come!
For more in-depth posture work, I refer people to the videos below, which feature exercises from Life University's "Straighten Up America" program, as well as "Foundation Training," developed by Dr. Eric Goodman.
If all you do is practice these exercises daily, you will start to see a great difference in your posture.
If you feel any pain or discomfort during an exercise or you find that they have no effect on your posture, I recommended that you are professionally assessed by a chiropractor. You may have spinal joint restrictions and/or myofascial adhesions that are preventing you from fully moving through the exercises. There also could be an underlying neurologic component, such as an issue in the vestibular system.
If you don't already have or know a chiropractor, perform a Google search for chiropractors in your area and read well through the reviews. Instead of just choosing a doctor based on your insurance, you will have a much better, effective experience if you choose based on patient testimonials and clinical outcomes.
Please feel free to contact me if you need any help in finding a practitioner.