I’ll stop short at calling these “New Year’s Resolutions” since I’m not a personal subscriber to that whoe thing. But I’ve been thinking a lot about how technology affects our health and wellness, so this week I’ll be sharing some goals that will help you feel a bit better using your gadgets.
Starting with posture. Because we spend our days firing off emails, thumbing the 1,007th text, browsing a juicy novel on your e-reader, or in a Pinterest hole. And it all adds up to two to four hours a day of holding our heads in some funky, awkward positions Mother Nature never intended. The result? Tech neck (also sometimes adorably called iPosture). When we’re contorting our necks this way, we can suffer from tight shoulders and achy backs, and if the problem’s not caught early, tech neck can lead to more serious issues, like tingling and chronic pain.
Why such woes? Blame it on our heavy heads. An adult human’s head weighs in around 10 to 12 pounds, but at a 15-degree forward tilt, the neck starts to feel the equivalent of 27 pounds of head weight, according to research done by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kenneth Hansraj. A 60-degree tilt of your head makes your poor neck feel like it’s topped by a 60-pound noggin. That means excess wear and tear on your spine.
Plus, repeat a posture long and often enough, and you’re essentially training your muscles and bones to permanently shorten or lengthen. So you’re basically asking your body to create a permanently rounded upper back and shoulders… AKA, perma-slouch.
As if that’s not bad enough, there’s another kind of tech neck, a more cosmetic problem: the prematurely wrinkled neck skin, and, egad—jowls—one can get from cricking the neck too much. Our beloved devices can make us look like Winston Churchill? Not on my watch! For this New Year’s Resolution, I’m going to show you how to avoid tech neck.
Eyes up here
The key is to bring your device up to you, not your head down to the device. Hold your phone so that the screen is up at eye level, or, glance down at your phone with your eyes, but don’t pivot your whole head down like a turtle. I know those texts are important, but take frequent breaks—set a timer if you need to—so that for every 15 minutes of smartphone, tablet or e-reader use, you’re doing a stretch, a little dance, whatever break your body needs.
For your desktop computer, make sure your monitor is straight forward at eye level, so that you aren’t straining your neck. Prop it up on books if you need to, so the height is right.
To help you remember not to drop your head down when you’re using your handheld device, download the app Text Neck Indicator (Android). It was created by a Florida-based chiropractor and will show a green light if you’re holding your phone the right way and give you a warning red light if you’re not. You can also adjust the app to beep or vibrate for posture alerts—pretty cool.
Lastly, here’s a surprising way to protect your neck: Stay hydrated. The spine needs a lot of water to stay supple and keep the disks separated, so keep a water bottle nearby and swig that recommended eight 8-oz. glasses of water a day.
With tech neck, the muscles in the chest and front of the neck shorten and tighten, and the muscles in the back of the neck and back loosen and weaken, giving a person that sexy, Hunchback of Notre Dame look. To avoid this, choose classes like yoga, Pilates and ballet—all are excellent for stretching and strengthening the neck and back, and for improving posture overall.
When you’re at home or in the office, you can do simple stretches, like rolling your head from side to side, chin tucks, and rolling your shoulders back. Nod your head yes and no. Use a doorway as a stretching tool: stand in the doorway and bring your hands to either side of the door at shoulder height like someone told you to “stick ‘em up,” then push your chest forward through the door, holding the stretch 10 to 15 seconds. Shake out your arms and hands and get back to work. If anyone looks at your funny, just mumble something about that triathlon you’re training for.
Experts can help you, too: A chiropractor or physical therapist can recommend specific stretches and exercises for the neck, back and spine, and help address postural problems. Book a few sessions with a massage therapist to knead out the kinks. While any type of massage is likely to bring relief, the Dorit Baxter Day Spa in New York even has a Tech Neck Massage with hot towels and neck-specific rubs that supposedly “combat the ills of our modern lives.”
Or, order up an in-home massage using the Soothe (iOS) or Zeel (Android, iOS) apps, and have a licensed, background-checked therapist show up on your doorstep within an hour. Their employees are trained in therapies like Swedish, deep tissue and Shiatsu massage. Just don’t book any services while spending a prolonged amount of time scrunched up over your phone, kay? Because that would be ironic.
For more ways to pro-tech yourself, check out this Digiknow video.
Stop clutching your device with your hands, and let a stand do the work for you. Some tabletop models position your devices for easy streaming or viewing, like this TwelveSouth model for tablets or smartphones (above), while this version would work well for your laptop. Others, like this Tablift, were designed for reading in bed—ah, luxury. There’s even an octopus-like model, the FourFlexx Stand, which can hold your phone next to your tablet, so you can multitask.
Lumolift (above) is a tiny activity tracker that is also mindful of your posture: Hunch, and you’ll get an electric shock. Just kidding, you’ll get a notification on your smartphone. Gotcha.
As for dealing with the shar-pei neck wrinkles, leave it to the wacky world of Japanese beauty gadgets to find a solution. I present the Omni Neck Wrinkle Iron. If anyone is brave enough to try it, let me know how it works out?
For the Kids
High school age kids are particularly prone to tech neck, warns Dr. Hansraj, as they spend up to an additional 5,000 hours (!) a year on their electronic devices. And for younger children, whose muscles and skeletons are still developing, it’s especially important they develop good posture and habits. Help your little techies stay safe with the following:
- Encourage frequent breaks when they are playing games or texting friends on their electronics. Set a timer for 15 minutes for young children or ask older kids to use timers themselves.
- Limit screen time per day.
- Educate your family on how to sit (it’s not a think kids intuitively know): straight up with the chest out, pulling the shoulder blades down and back.
- If your kids are using their phone or tablet, have them use it directly in front of them, resting on their chest or on a pillow.
- Invest in an external keyboard and mouse if they will be using a device for a lengthy amount of time.
- Avoid using mobile devices in bright sunshine; when kids strain to see what’s on the screen, they lean their heads forward even more.
For more on this, read these two great New York Times articles on even more ways your posture affects your physical health, on how tech neck could be affecting your mood.
Here’s to a healthy and happy 2016. You know I’ll always have your back.