Look around any subway car, hospital waiting room, or long bathroom line, and you can’t miss it: dozens of people staring down at their phones.
Everyone and their mother has stated their opinion on why this trend isn’t good for humanity, but what about for your body? A 2017 study from Surgical Neurology International studied neck pain in adolescents under 18 (the tech generation). Of the 207 participants with neck pain, 180 kids dropped their head at an angle of 45 degrees or greater while they used their phones and tablets, a phenomenon experts dub “Text Neck.” This term describes the strain and pain that comes from regularly dropping your head and slouching your shoulders to scroll through your digital devices for minutes or even hours at a time.
Text neck may be indirectly causing thousands of hospital visits a year—and not just by Snapchat-savvy teens. Every decade since 1993, the World Health Organization has listed neck pain as the fourth-highest cause of years living with a disability, ranking ahead of common health concerns like migraines, diabetes, and alcohol abuse. Clearly, our 21st-century posture has become a literal pain in the neck.
As with all things, balance and self-care are key. Here’s what experts recommend to prevent text neck.
1. Keep your chin up.
“Your head is a heavy object for your neck to support, applying about 10 to 12 pounds to your neck when held in the proper position,” says licensed chiropractor Hunter Greenwood, DC, ND, and owner of Chiropractor Plus. “When you bend your head forward and down, as you do in reading or typing on your cell phone and laptops, that pressure begins to increase from 27 pounds at a 15-degree angle up to 60 pounds at 60 degrees.” Let’s repeat that: A severe dip in your neck posture can add up to 60 pounds of pressure to your body! To minimize this strain on the neck, keep the chin up and the neck straight.
2. Relax your shoulders.
It’s natural to droop and round the shoulders forward while you look down at a phone, book, or laptop. You want to avoid that posture, but you also don’t want your shoulders to be tight, tense, and hunched up by your ears. Keep them back but relaxed.
3. Think “tall.”
Relaxing your shoulders is easier if your head, neck, and spine are elongated. “[Try] imagining there is a rope pulling you straight up from the top, center of your head,” suggests Johnny Martinez, a certified health and wellness coach, licensed massage therapist, and certified personal trainer. This is just good posture for all the time, even when you’re phone is tucked away in your pocket (for once).
4. Bring your phone to eye level.
Yeah, holding your phone out in front of you can definitely make your arm tired (but at least that will give you a reminder to take a break). Still, a simple way to combat the arm fatigue is by propping your elbow up on your stomach, according to Brad Ellisor, DC, a chiropractor and wellness expert. This can help position your phone closer to eye level without having to literally hold your phone up.
5. Do slow, range-of-motion stretches.
One way to combat the neck strain from all that non-stop texting on your train ride home is by stretching out your neck. If you’re prone to dropping your head while using your phone, certain stretches can improve blood flow and relieve tension caused by text neck, according to Dr. Ellisor. Deep breaths to extend the ribs, as well as neck and shoulder rolls, are easy stretches you can do just about anywhere, even on a packed subway.
If neck rolls aren’t enough, take it up a notch with these two little exercises, courtesy of Megan Randich, doctor of physical therapy at Athletico Physical Therapy.
Shoulder blade squeeze: Pinch your shoulder blades back behind you, as if trying to touch your two elbows together. Hold this position for five seconds, and then relax. Repeat about 20 times.
Chest stretch: Stand in the middle of a doorway and place a hand on each side of the door frame. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. Hold this position for five seconds, and then relax. Repeat about 20 times.
For more stretches for better posture, try these yoga-inspired stretches you can do at your desk.
6. Take a tech break.
Putting down your phone or tablet has multiple benefits, including reducing neck pain, preventing eye strain, and (yep) encouraging face-to-face interaction.
That said, here’s a little cheat: Switch devices. Instead of staring at your phone for long periods of time, your desktop computer may be more posture-friendly (if you use it correctly). “Use a desktop or laptop for extended work,” says Dr. Ellisor, “and make sure you arrange devices ergonomically.” Here’s how to set up your desk area for better posture.