3 Quick, Easy and Effective Ways to Release ‘Tech Neck’
If you, like the rest of us, are logging more time than ever in front of your screen and on your phone, chances are at some point, you’re going to experience tech or text neck—discomfort, tightness or pain in your neck and upper back. Fortunately, there are quick, easy and effective ways to release those muscles, which are most vulnerable to stress and strain. And best of all, you can do them at your desk.
As a national yoga teacher who specializes in the intersection of yoga and life off the mat, I can tell you that questions about and requests for neck releases are among the most popular I receive, which is indicative that, yes, Houston, we do have a work-posture problem. Whether I’m teaching yoga classes, in-house corporate workshops, or giving talks at events around the country, people often ask how to deal with and heal their chronic neck discomfort. And since nobody has endless amounts of time to follow a lengthy and rigorous protocol, I’ve assembled these three effective, efficient stretches for us desk jockeys, myself included.
3 Easy Ways to Release Tech Neck
1. Upper Back.
This is one of my favorite ways to release the upper back muscles. According to Lalla McHugh, a seasoned physical therapist with private practices in both Braintree and Roslindale, Massachusetts, “Eagle arm posture can help counteract long hours sitting at a desk, or using a cell phone. It provides a good stretch for your latissimus, trapezius and deltoids, (muscles of the shoulder and upper back), and can help maintain a healthy length of your rotator cuff muscles.”
How To Release Your Upper Back.
Sit up tall and bring the arms in front of you at a 90-degree angle, elbows at shoulder-height. If this is enough of a stretch for you, stay here. If you need more, drop the right elbow below the left and twine your forearms. The key to this release is to keep the elbows comfortably lifted—if it feels okay, equal height to the shoulders—and the shoulder blades as relaxed and low as possible. Lalla, who is herself a yoga practitioner, senior meditation teacher and certified level 10 esoteric healer, advises, “To ensure an effective and safe stretch, be sure to sit up straight while performing it, and don’t to push the stretch to the point of pain.”
If you need more stretch, press the elbows away from you slightly and let the head hang forward (see above). Lalla explains, “When you gently bend the head forward, you increase the fascial pull from the neck into the upper back.” Stay for 30-60 seconds, then switch sides if you dropped an elbow, or just do the pose again with the elbows next to each other.
“Lastly, remember,” Lalla says, “if you can’t comfortably do the full posture, ask an experienced yoga teacher well-versed in anatomy and modifications how to best modify the stretch.”
2. Side of Your Neck.
If you’ve been working on your computer or texting on your phone, you might start to notice you feel it in your neck.
How to Release the Side of Your Neck.
Sitting tall, try to relax your shoulders down toward the floor and then drop your right ear toward your right shoulder. Immediately, you should feel a really nice stretch down the left side of your neck. Stay for 30 seconds, then stay exactly as you are and turn your gaze down to the floor (see below). Now stay here for 30 seconds. These stretches target the levator and erector spinae mucles.
To intensify (see below), lift your right hand to the back of your head and with the pressure of one finger (a.k.a. not too hard), BRIEFLY (about two seconds) try to gently lift your head up, as you also gently resist with your fingertips. So the head won’t actually move, but you’ll deepen your stretch. You can repeat the lift/resist two to three times.
Why does this work? Dr. Leonard Kamen, clinical director of MossRehab Outpatient (a tertiary rehabilitation hospital in Philadelphia, and one of 10 best rehabilitation hospitals in the U.S.), and clinical associate professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Temple University, explains: “The extensor muscles work to keep your head up. When you work at a computer, and hang the head forward, they become less and less capable of maintaining postural control. The levator scapulae, which connects to the superior medial corner of the scapula bone and then makes its way up to the transverse process juncture (in your neck), is a long muscle and tends to fatigue easily. Over time, hunched over your desk or device, it takes a beating. So it’s an important muscle to strengthen.”
When you press your head up and resist with your fingertips, you’re gently strengthening this vulnerable muscle—which is great. But you may also notice, as I do when I try this at my desk after a day of writing, that you’ll also feel a deeper stretch. I asked Dr. Kamen why and how that works.
“When you give yourself this isometric pose, you’re resetting golgi-tendon organs—the spindles inside the muscles that tell you how much stretch you’re capable of,” he explained. “When they’re tight, they’re fully loaded. But with first an isometric engagement followed by relaxation, you’re resetting them.” (So, don’t forget the relaxation part!)
In my opinion, the really cool part of this is that you’re not just going to feel better (although that is pretty cool), but you’re actually reprogramming your body and redefining your flexibility—as you also strengthen those muscles! Now, that’s a major win-win-win in my book.
3. The Back of Your Neck
How to Lengthen and Release the Back of Your Neck With Occipital Traction.
Sit up tall. Bring your fingertips to the back of your head. At the base of your skull, where the head meets the neck, you’ll feel two bony ridges—that’s your occiput. Consciously draw your shoulder blades down and relax the shoulders, then hook your fingertips under the occiput and gently press forward (toward your chin) and lift up (toward the sky).
Drop the shoulders again—the goal is to create as much length and space along the neck between the head and shoulders as possible. When you draw the shoulders down and pull the occiput up, you’ll probably feel a really nice release.
Hold for 30 seconds as you traction the occiput, lengthening and releasing the muscles that run down the back of your neck, then let it go.
I also asked Dr. Kamen if he and other doctors in the pain field are seeing a rise in patients with tech neck. He said he tech neck is technically classified as a repetitive strain disorder. “There’s a long history of repetitive strain disorders (based on the work people do), and over the past 20 years, it’s been on the rise for computer workers for sure,” he says. “It has always been controversial in the medical field because you can’t get a picture—(an MRI, or ultrasound) of it. It’s just a repetitive challenge to muscles because you’re sitting in odd postures for long lengths of time. For practitioners in my field, it falls into recognizable myofascial pain.”
That’s why it’s important to have these tools to support your wellness in these vulnerable areas. By taking charge of your wellness in these small ways, you can help release tension and pain, and ultimately stay WELL.