Are you reading this at your desktop computer? How is your head balanced on your neck? Is your chin pushed forward as you lean into your monitor? The majority of you at computers will say yes.
Are you reading this on a mobile device? How is your head balanced on your neck? Is your chin tucked to your chest so that your gaze can meet the phone or tablet in your hand? Most of you on mobile devices will say yes.
These are the two most common forward-head postures and the likely source of a lot of aches and pains that massage therapists are collectively referring to as "tech neck".
A lot of folks don't realize how much strain a forward-head posture places on our neck on shoulders. Massage therapist and educator Erik Dalton, in an article which includes some great pictures of the postures and the internal havoc they wreak, tells us that "for every inch the head moves forward from its ideal gravitational center, it feels as if it weighs an additional 10 pounds". Think about that for a second. If you're leaning forward three inches (which is pretty likely), you've added 30 pounds of strain to your neck and shoulders. Backpackers, people who need to carry enough food and gear between resupply stations on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail, try to keep their pack weights below 25 pounds. And at our desks and on our couches, every day, we ask our bodies to handle more strain than someone who's choosing to hike hundreds of miles. Image source: http://erikdalton.com/text-neck-and-desktop-neck/
Of course, you don't need me to tell you that this is terrible for you. You're likely already experiencing some tension or discomfort now that you've taken a moment to check in with your neck posture. Why didn't you feel it before you started reading this post? Because our bodies are made to adapt. Your neck probably used to hurt in this pose, but you pushed through it. As you did it more and more, different muscles learned to engage in order to hold this posture. Your body even made some new connective tissue as scaffolding to hold up your head in this unnatural position. Your nerves adapted to all of this and the signals about discomfort and postural correction were no longer loud enough to get through.
In the meantime, you're headed towards a breaking point. The muscles will fatigue or fail, the connective tissue will limit your motion or your nerves may get pinched. Maybe two or three of these will happen at once, and then you're in a deeper kind of chronic pain. We're all risk for tech neck, but there are strategies available to manage the risk.
Frequent Breaks. I know what you're doing is important, but your health is too. You've got to get up and move around at least once an hour so your body isn't stuck like that.
Massage Therapy. It's great preventative maintenance, and massage can help to dig you out of the hole once the pain sets in. It can help to relax and rebalance your postural muscles, break up connective tissue adhesions and soothe the nerve irritation.
Kinesio Tape. Some taping patterns will remind your body to hold itself in alignment, even when your attention is captured by your phone or laptop. Others can address specific muscle or nerve functions that may be impaired by tech neck.
The best management is prevention, but there are things we can do when the pain strikes. If this is you, let me know and we can review your options.